Lansing businesses stepping up to support Flint

A few months ago, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver reached out to the City of Lansing and asked if the Lansing Board of Water and Light could lend their expertise to the struggling city. They wanted to begin replacing their lead pipes with copper and Lansing had already been undergoing the process for around 12 years. While an older method of pipe replacement required digging up the ground and often destroying sidewalks and yard, the BWL was the first to use a newer, more refined method and Flint didn't want to start from scratch. 

When the request came, the BWL didn't hesitate. "We were well aware of their struggles," says Dick Peffley, BWL's General Manager, "and knew we could get them up and running faster than any other company." 

Because, while food and water help ease the burdens caused by the lead-filled water, the real relief will come for the residents of Flint when they know their water is no longer flowing through lead-lined pipes. To help Flint move toward that solution, the BWL was more than happy to step in and offer their experience and expertise. 

They began the process by sending crews out to Flint to train their crews on the new method of pipe replacement. "We spent a few months going back and forth and now they have taken over the process but can call us with any questions." 

While they are being compensated for their efforts, Peffley was eager to contribute to the growing relationship between the neighboring cities. "We could have a problem someday and need to reach out to neighboring utility companies. We need to help our neighbors." 

"It's important to build that community friendship," adds Amy Adamy, Communications Coordinator, "We need to be able to rely on each other." 

Relationships were what gave Greg Pratt, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator with the Michigan Pharmacists Association, the chance to step in and help out. A part-time pharmacist at Sparrow Pharmacy Plus, Pratt works with the State of Michigan's Division of Emergency Preparedness and Response, and through these dual roles has been working to build relationships between pharmacies, health departments and the State of Michigan. 

The goal of these partnerships is to make sure that when disasters strike, hospitals receive the supplies they need to treat their staff and their families and therefore can remain open during a major event. When the disaster in Flint occurred, Pratt says there was an opportunity for community pharmacies to step in and help out.

A pilot program is currently in place that will provide point-of-care testing--the ability to perform tests in the field in a hospital or health facility and get timely results-- to the Flint population. This is a service that has always been provided by pharmacies and, as there is a test available for lead levels, the opportunity was there for the pharmacies to step in and help. Right now, the tests are being distributed and the program is being built. "Everyone in the US lives within 5 miles of a community pharmacy," says Pratt, "Providing these access points takes some of the pressure off of doctors and clinics." 
Knowing that those diagnosed with high lead levels would have a long journey ahead of them is part of what makes Pratt confident that putting this task in the hands of pharmacists will be a positive step. "Pharmacists understand disease management," says Pratt. "This is to be part of a patient's medical care. We are providing care and education in a way people understand and trust."

When JMT US, a French Company with multiple locations here in Michigan, had an overabundance of apples after a quality test of one of their storage bins proved successful, there was only one place they could think to send them. 

JMT, a French company already well established in France and across Europe, was attracted to Michigan for their rank as the 2nd largest diverse agricultural state after California. This environment seemed like the perfect place for their product, a storage bin specially designed to keep produce fresher, longer. The innovative bin uses the natural respiration of various types of produce to stabilize oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, creating a controlled atmosphere.

Recently, the bins were tested at Michigan State University Horticulture Teaching and Research Center using Golden and Ida Red Apples. The test was completed successfully and showed that they maintained their freshness over a long-term storage period. But, the apples needed to be used right away.

Lea Deberry in Business Development says that Flint was the first place they thought of to send the apples. "When we open the bins, we have to eat them. But there were so many, if we had to throw them away it would be such a shame. We could have chosen other places but it seemed like the most natural place to send them."

Over 102 bushels will go to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan (FBEM) for distribution to Flint schoolchildren and area residents. The apples will be used to help those affected by the water crisis and also in the commercial kitchen of the food bank to prepare applesauce for preschool students in the head start program.

While the residents of Flint are still struggling, assistance efforts continue to pour in from those in Lansing and surrounding communities. And while there is no immediate fix, the donations of time, goods and talent will make a large impact on the future of Flint, the relationships between the cities, and the hope that nothing like this will ever happen again. 


Allison Spooner is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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