WOODLAWN — When Chicago firefighter Eric Washington got wind of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., he thought of his own childhood growing up in Jeffery Manor on the Far South Side: Both are predominantly black communities that are too often deprived of essential resources.
That empathy is what led Washington to step in and get involved, pledging to collect 1,500 cases of bottled water to donate to the Michigan city, which has been plagued by lead-contaminated drinking water for almost two years.
"When I first heard about it, I thought it was a minor issue, but as I started to reach out to people from Flint, then I realized how big the issue is," Washington said. "You should never put people's lives in jeopardy over the price of a dollar."
Washington is asking fellow Chicagoans to drop off donations at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., on Jan. 30 from 9 a.m. to noon, he said. Washington plans to drive a truck packed with clean water from Chicago to Flint the next day and drop the cases off to Flint's First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church.
For those who can't make it to Woodlawn or would rather contribute monetarily, Washington started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2,000, which can buy 7,500 bottles, according to the page.
"People need help and I can help people all day at work," said Washington, who has been with the Fire Department since 2014. "For people to be subjected to those conditions and the type of water they had [to] drink, that was sad."
Washington first reached out to Catrina Tillman, the Flint church's first lady (pastor's wife) to see how he could help. Tillman says that Chicagoans have gone far and above in order to help them in their hour of need.
"Chicago has been showing a lot of love to the citizens of Flint. We've received donations from people who are in shock," Tillman said. "A lot of people are wondering how this could have happened. The citizens of Flint are appreciative of all the support."
Washington, who graduated from Hyde Park in 2000, said he initially got the word out through a series of Facebook posts. He's been overwhelmed by the support he has gotten thus far.
"People love it and they are eager to help," Washington said. "A lot of people wanted to help but they didn't know how. The response I've gotten so far, I was kind of shocked."
So far, he's collected 130 cases of water to help the residents of Flint.
"Those people are getting sick from that water. They can't bathe themselves. They can't wash their clothes," Washington said. "We have people within reach that are struggling. I definitely don't mind taking a trip up to Flint to help those people out."
Washington also wonders why elected officials let the crisis continue so long without intervention.
"I know there are people who are a lot more powerful than me that could do a whole lot more, and why they are not? I don't know," Washington said. "That's out of my control. I know that I could step up and do something."
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