The school is always a big part of the community, said Orlando Gooden, and the past couple of weeks the schools in Cahokia and East St. Louis have been working to help residents of Flint, Mich.
Gooden, a parent liaison with Cahokia High School, and a friend drove a rented U-Haul with more than 600 cases of water to Flint over the weekend. East St. Louis will be sending another truckload on its way later this week.
“That Saturday was kind of crazy,” said Nicole Johnson, an information technician at Cahokia High School who helped lead the collection. Water donations came from the high school, members of the community, the work of elementary children at Estelle Sauget School of Choice and even the city’s mayor.
“You really don’t expect things to be that big, and it just blew up,” she said.
Part of Cahokia’s donations came from the district itself when the high school got a peek at what a day without drinking water could be like. The water main broke last week, calling for a boil order at the high school.
“We were out of water for a day,” said senior Termaine Cunningham, 17, of Cahokia High School. “They’ve been out a lot longer.”
Getting students to take and share responsibility in crises is part of the reason East St. Louis teachers have started a collection contest, said Chris Crumble.
East St. Louis will send its water to Flint on Thursday; donations can be dropped off at the school’s office until then.
“We want to make sure they feel support from all over the country,” said Crumble, an English teacher at East St. Louis. “Students have been tremendous in their support.”
Water donations can be left at the high school’s main office at 4901 State St., he said.
“If we needed some water, we’d want somebody to help us,” said Courtney Ross, a 16-year-old at East St. Louis. She’s brought in more than $10 to the cause.
Classmate Tiffany Austin, 17, said pictures of the water “kind of shook me.”
“I know it was nasty, and I heard their skin was peeling off, and that had to hurt,” she said. Austin was very concerned about the amount of lead in Flint’s water, given that she recently learned in nursing class about the dangers of lead exposure.
Both districts are working with Decatur community activist Jacob Jenkins, an East St. Louis graduate.
Crumble said Jenkins had arranged with groups from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville for about 150 cases of water, some of which are labeled with “SUIE Cares” cards.
A group that Jenkins started, called Decatur Water Challenge, is providing a rental truck for the East St. Louis school to bring the water to Decatur. From there, it will be taken by semi, along with other contributions, to Flint.
Gooden, of Cahokia, took a more direct approach to the donation. He took the nearly full rental truck to Flint with a friend.
“I woke up one morning, and it was on my heart,” he said of his decision to directly give water to Flint residents. He said his wife and friends initially tried to brush him off, saying “you don’t have time,” but he could not let it go. It is the first time he’s done “anything like that.”
Once word got out of his plans, a recently retired teacher put him in touch with a relative. Mike Thompson’s nephew is a church pastor in Flint, and Gooden delivered the water just as Sunday morning services were getting out.
“I know it doesn’t fix anything, but it put some smiles on people’s faces,” Gooden said.
How to help
- Take water donations to East St. Louis High School before noon Thursday.