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Fox alum’s effort helps communities impacted by Flint water crisis

March 30, 2016 //
Photo of Rob Lawton
Rob Lawton

When Rob Lawton and the rest of his team arrived in Flint, Mich., with 60,000 water bottles in two trucks, a line of 20 to 30 trucks quickly began to pile up – a sign of how desperate the need was for fresh water in that region of the country.

After the state of Michigan in April 2014 switched the city of Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to water from the Flint River, many residents started calling attention to the water’s strange smell, taste, and color. It was later determined that Flint River water was highly corrosive and had caused lead from outdated pipe systems to leak unhealthy elements like lead into the citizens’ water supply. Until pipes could be replaced, citizens were told to drink, bathe, and cook only using bottled water.

That’s why Lawton, a 2013 Marketing alumnus of Temple University’s Fox School of Business, and others like him led a group effort to bring aid relief to Flint.

Lawton received a phone call in January from his friend Nehemiah Davis, the founder of nonprofit organization The Nehemiah Davis Foundation, which works on creating community outreach programs like food drives, back-to-school drives, and more. Davis knew Lawton frequently used large commercial trucks in his line of work as the owner of audio-visual production company Mid-Atlantic FX.

“(Ingram) said, ‘If we go through with this idea, will you be able to get us some trucks?’” said Lawton, who was happy to oblige.

Before departing Jan. 24 on the nine-hour drive from Philadelphia to Flint, Lawton and others turned to social media to spread word that they’d be collecting donations of bottled water. The response was so great, Lawton said, that he needed to add a second truck for the drive. (A tow truck company, in particular, Lawton remembered, arrived with a seven-truck fleet to deliver pallets of water bottles.)

“It was really amazing the amount of support that we received and we were able to effectively enrich the lives of others who are going through this terrible experience,” Lawton said.

Upon arrival in Flint, the team began unloading water onto the street. Each person received two cases, unless he or she had a greater need and represented more than one family. They first delivered to Flint’s lower-income communities, where access to fresh water drop-off zones was reduced to firehouses and municipal buildings.

A documentary to be titled “#Philly2Flint,” created by fellow team member Melissa Robbins, inspired a social media campaign. Soon after, other travelers to Flint shared their experiences with similar hashtags.

Lawton said he will always remember the reaction of the community members to his team’s bottled water delivery.

“There was this one lady,” Lawton said. “We just started loading water bottles in her car and she had this smile that was ear to ear. It was heartwarming. All I have to do is turn on my faucet for something that made her so appreciative. And at that moment, I could tell she really needed it. I’ll never forget that. “

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