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In January 2016, Stacy Lamb was driving back home after delivering emergency supplies to flooded areas of St. Louis when he got a call from another Convoy of Hope employee. A situation was developing in Flint, Michigan, and it sounded bad.
Lamb, director of U.S. disaster services for the Republic faith-based relief organization, said he knew early on call that Flint would require a massive response to a water crisis centered around a lead contamination issue. On Thursday, as the Convoy’s first few emergency supply trucks headed home empty from Jackson, Mississippi, he said he hoped and believed the situation there would be different from Convoy of Hope’s nearly year-long response to Flint’s water crisis.
On Thursday, Lamb said anywhere from five to 10 truckloads of bottled water would be delivered to Jackson over the Labor Day weekend. Across Mississippi’s capital, residents lined up to collect substitute supplies while crews worked around the clock to repair the city’s failed treatment plant.
System failures have led to a lack of safe drinking water for the city’s 180,000 residents. In Jackson, where 80 percent of the population is Black, many residents are saying their infrastructure needs have been overlooked and underfunded for years leading up to this moment.
Lamb said he is hopeful the issues will be addressed quickly in part because the recent flooding exposed a lack of infrastructure investment, rather than a lead issue, and also because officials have declared the situation an emergency.
“To see a federal declaration come out (Wednesday) on this, obviously people are moving very quickly, going, we can’t let — again, this is my own opinion — but we can’t let this be another Flint,” Lamb said. “I’m hopeful that federal, state and local officials will get a handle on this much quicker than they did in Flint, and that it won’t take nonprofits like Convoy and others months, if not years, and hundreds of loads to help out — that we can just help in the short term in the interim, while they kind of get their legs under them.”
Convoy of Hope ended up in Flint for the long term after state emergency officials asked Lamb and other nonprofit leaders to take the lead on supply distribution.
“We spent about 11 months sending team members back and forth up there, driving trucks and delivering and distributing water all over the city to the tune of about 400 loads,” he said. Convoy crews would spend upwards of two weeks on the ground in the city, Lamb said, distributing water to the same areas and residents who they came to recognize.
“It was almost like a regular delivery route,” Lamb said. “Like you were delivering Coke to a convenience store.”
Each of those loads, he said, brought anywhere from about 20,000 to 25,000 bottles of water to Flint residents. That’s anywhere from 8 to 10 million bottles of water. Convoy of Hope, Lamb said, was one of the city’s major suppliers.
While he’s not anticipating the response to Jackson will last as long as the one in Flint, Lamb said it’s too early to tell for sure how much Convoy of Hope’s help will be needed.