January 27, 2016 1:01 PM, EST
Trucking Companies Rally to Provide Water to Flint Residents

Several trucking companies and large retailers on Jan. 26 announced plans to donate and truck in tens of thousands of bottles of water for residents and schoolchildren of Flint, Michigan, to assist the community that is experiencing a drinking water crisis.

Jet Express Inc., one of the carriers who initiated a local campaign to help Flint, raised donations of more than 17,000 bottles in the first 24 hours of their effort, said Kevin Burch, president of the Dayton, Ohio-based motor carrier.

Jet Express hopes to roll into Flint on Feb. 1 with a trailer carrying 40,000 bottles of water.

"In today's world, how do we let a city that used to be thriving culture-wise with theaters and art institutes to deteriorate to the point that there's no water to drink, bathe or wash their clothes?" asked Burch, who grew up in Flint and got his first trucking job there as a third-shift dispatcher in 1973. "How disgusting is it for Michigan with the Great Lakes and more fresh water than any other place in the world."

Other companies that announced their participation in the effort on Jan. 26 included Wal-Mart, Nestle Waters North America, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola.

Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and PepsiCo will collectively donate water to meet the daily needs of over 10,000 schoolchildren for the balance of the calendar year. That translates to 176 truckloads, or up to 6.5 million bottles of water, to help with relief efforts for those affected by the water crisis in Flint, the companies said in a joint statement. 

“At Wal-Mart, we take pride in using our strengths to help communities like Flint during times of crisis, as we’ve done around the world in times of need,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Bartlett. 

Wal-Mart has already donated 14 trucks of water, or 504,000 bottles, and 1,792 water filters to the Flint community since July 2015, Bartlett said. 

Coca-Cola has donated nearly 78,720 bottles of Dasani to local food banks and foundations and to approximately 40 associates living in the affected area. Nestlé Waters North America has already donated five truckloads, or more than 190,000 bottles, to Flint community organizations since October 2015. PepsiCo has donated almost 95,000 bottles of water to Flint and the families of the company’s employees over the past four months.

“PepsiCo believes that access to safe water is a basic human right,” said Tony West, executive vice president, PepsiCo government affairs. “We are committed to supporting the communities where we operate, and our collective action today will allow Flint school children and their parents to focus on their education rather than where they can find clean water."

“Nestlé Waters is proud to team up with Wal-Mart to expand our ongoing work to provide clean, safe bottled water for Flint residents,” said Cameron Lorrain, plant manager for the Michigan-based Ice Mountain and Nestlé Pure Life brand operations. “We will continue to work in partnership with other companies, local officials and relief organizations to ensure that families in Flint have access to a steady supply of safe drinking water.”

“We are committed to supporting Wal-Mart and other groups in water relief efforts for the Flint community,” said Coca-Cola North America spokeswoman Lori George Billingsley. “This critical initiative to provide bottled water to the two Flint school districts builds on our heritage of supporting disaster relief work around the world. Over the past 19 months, we have donated bottled water, volunteer hours and supported our employees in the affected area and will continue to look for ways to help meet the community’s needs.” 

Burch said Flint has had some hard times due to cutbacks in the auto industry and its population has declined by more than 100,000 over recent decades.

"Unfortunately, the people left there are mostly retirees and older people," Burch said. "The water issues up there are just terrible."

Burch said several owner-operators have agreed to donate their trucks and time in the effort. In addition, Pottle's Transportation of Bangor, Maine, also has agreed to deliver a load of water next week, Burch said, and other companies, including Martin Transportation Systems, Dayton Freight Lines, Englewood Trucking and truck dealer Rush International, also have joined the effort.

"What I like about this is that trucking is the common thread," said Burch, who is also American Trucking Associations First Vice Chairman. "We all in to get the job done no matter what the need is. It's really refreshing. This is a good example of trucking moving America forward."