KILLDEER — A group of Killdeer High School alumni from around North Dakota personally delivered pallets of water bottles to the city of Flint, Mich., this past week, and are planning another trip in March.
The idea is the brainchild of 23-year-old Colt Mavity, a college student originally from the Grassy Butte area who attends the University of Jamestown.
The cause, which they call #ND4FLINT in social media, proved so successful the first time that Mavity said he’s planning to make another delivery to the city hit by a water crisis.
The deliveries are being made to help alleviate the problem of poisoned tap water in Flint due to the city’s corroding lead pipes, which has captured the national spotlight in recent months. The revelation has lead to a crisis, requiring bottled water to be shipped in for residents.
Mavity, who has been following the water crisis in Flint, said the idea struck him about three weeks ago when, being an NBA fan, he read a story of how former Detroit Pistons basketball player Rasheed Wallace had driven up to Flint from North Carolina to donate a truck full of water.
Mavity said he felt he could do something similar. He described waking up on Feb. 15 with the idea still in his head and deciding to go ahead with it.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to do it,’” he said.
Mavity said he had received a financial aid check that he figured could partially be spent toward a good cause. He calculated costs for the water, as well as the food and gas for the trip.
Mavity said he told those interested in volunteering to drive a vehicle that he would reimburse them half their gas money if there were enough funds.
He called a friend from high school and Dickinson State University student, Jessen Dolechek, to ask if he wanted to ride along with him. Dolechek said he could also fill his vehicle up with water bottles and follow Mavity.
Mavity said he then called another high school friend in Grand Forks, who gave the same response.
At that point, Mavity said he decided to set up a GoFundMe page for the cause. He also created the hashtag #ND4FLINT to give his friends updates on the effort via Twitter, but then realized it could be used to spread the word about their plan.
Mavity said he had no real agenda to raise donation money when he created the GoFundMe page. He said he was more so moved to bring the cause to the public’s attention by the apparent lack of knowledge of Flint’s troubles that he found in people he’s come across.
“The whole reason I set it up in the first place was, ‘Well, hey, they can click on a website and read our story and understand what we’re doing and at least hopefully help us spread the word,’” he said.
Mavity said the cause was immediately picked up by a social media person on campus, and then by the local radio station. From there, it spread to TV stations in Fargo and a radio station in Bismarck.
As Mavity put it, within four days, their plan “blew up out of the water” with all the coverage it received.
Funds started pouring in, and people expressed interest in joining the group. Mavity said the convoy eventually consisted of seven individuals and five vehicles when they set off on Feb. 18.
Rhet Mavity, Colt’s 20-year-old brother who still lives outside of Grassy Butte and has a full-time job, was one of those who drove a vehicle. Contributing money beforehand, he said he decided to go with the group the afternoon before everyone left after he became inspired by hearing his brother talking about the cause on the radio.
“I kind of just last-minute decided that I wanted to help,” said Rhet.
Colt Mavity said the group slept in their vehicles and kept food costs at a minimum, before arriving in Lansing, Mich.
It was in Michigan that Rhet Mavity said the group purchased its water bottles from a Kroger grocery store — more than 13,000 of them.
“We pretty much bought them out of it,” he said.
As the water was being loaded into vehicles, Colt Mavity said he saw the donations had risen to a certain point where he then decided to rent a U-Haul truck to carry some of the pallets of water.
The caravan reached Flint and then helped unload it with members of the National Guard, the local fire department and volunteers.
“They definitely seemed like they needed a lot of help,” Rhet Mavity said of the Flint residents.
With the money they have left, the group is going to donate to the Safe Water Safe Homes Fund, which will help Flint replace its lead pipes when the time comes.
“We feel like we did a good job in facilitating the generosity of others in providing the immediate, short-term help of the water, as well as helping contribute to their long-term goal to fix the issue with their new water pipes,” Colt Mavity said.
Colt Mavity said the cause is still seeing a lot of donations coming in, and there are yet others who have expressed interest in getting involved.
From this, he said he is planning on making the second trip next month.
“I will spend as much time as a college kid absolutely can to get this second trip out there,” he said.
To donate, visit the group’s GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/ND4FLINT.