Think America doesn’t give a damn about Flint? 15,000 donors disagree

The 11-Year-Old

Davison, Mich., sixth-grader Claire Mattern was looking for a community project, and found it a few miles west in the children of Flint. “They’re in pain and are growing up in a rough city,” Claire said. “They deserve to grow up with a life full of opportunity. Not one where the water can hurt you.”

Claire designed a T-shirt, and planned to sell a few to neighbors and donate the profits to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, which supports the long-term needs of Flint children. Neighbors told other neighbors. Word spread on social media. Within weeks, Claire was getting T-shirt orders from strangers as far away as Alabama and Alaska. She has sold roughly 500 T-shirts at this website and donated about $2,000. “It was overwhelming,” Claire said, “but exciting at the end.”

(courtesy photo)

A bottle of yellowed water being held up amidst a group of people


An 89-year-old Michigan woman donates $20 a month “until she dies” to help Flint’s children. A 10-year-old California boy tells friends to bring Flint donations rather than gifts to his birthday party. From hard-core prisoners in Oregon to tap dancers in Ann Arbor, more than 15,000 people have opened their hearts and wallets to help people affected by the lead-poisoning crisis. What follows are portraits of a few who gave to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, operated by The Community Foundation of Greater Flint.

(photo courtesy of MLive)

Four men standing in a prison room with an oversized $800 check made out to the Community Foundation of Greater Flint

The Prison

“I was sitting on my bunk in my cell watching TV,” said Troy Ramsey (second from right), an inmate at the Oregon State Penitentiary. “I saw people on the “Steve Harvey Show” talking about how they couldn’t shower with the tap water. I set up a table in the commons area with signs asking for donations for Flint. Inmates earn an average of $40 a month. Some people gave a dollar, some $2, some $5. I was ecstatic we raised $800. We had some of the hardest people in the yard give money. A lot of us caused harm in our communities. This is one way we can give back.”

(courtesy photo: from left to right: D’Angelo Turner, Jeremy Hays, Troy Ramsey, Grover Clegg)

Dr. Mohammad Sirajul Haque reading a piece of paper with other men looking over his shoulder

The Mosque

Dr. Mohammad Sirajul Haque, president of the Baitul Mukarram Masjid mosque in Detroit, called presidents of other Pakistani mosques in Detroit and neighboring Hamtramck. “I explained we had to do something for Flint,” Haque said. “We wanted to do something for the kids.” Collections taken at four mosques raised about $10,000. “Our religion says, if your neighbor suffers, if you do not help them, you are not a true Muslim,” Haque said. “Flint is our neighbor.”

“In general, people are good.”

(courtesy photo)

A trio of comedians posing for a photo

The Comedians

A group of California-based comedians – including three from Flint – hosted a fundraiser at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank and, later, flew on their own dime to Flint to put on another show at the Luxe Lounge. All told, they raised $4,700.

“My father worked there, I was born there, it was where I started doing shows,” said Michael Rayner, left. “But the most important reason (to help), it is just the right thing to do.” Fellow Flint native Sarah J. Halstead said, “The fact that this is happening in our own country is appalling and surreal.” Shondalia White, center, also from Flint: “That could have been me, so I just had to do something.”

(courtesy photo, left to right: Michael Rayner, Shondalia White, both Flint natives, and fellow comic Dave Reinitz)

Melanie Harlow

The Romance Novelist

A water drive for Flint organized by her daughter’s elementary school made romance novelist Melanie Harlow wonder if there was something she could do. “It was so tragic,” Harlow said. “It was sickening that it could have been avoided. And the kids of Flint felt powerless. I knew the romance community would be generous.”

Harlow, the Grosse Pointe author of nine books including “Some Sort of Love” and “Man Candy,” posted a video to readers on social media that she was raising money for the children of Flint, and that she’d match donations up to $5,000. Other romance novelists jumped on board and encouraged their fans to contribute. In the end, Harlow raised $16,000. “A lot of my readers didn’t have a lot of extra money. (But) the romance community is 99 percent female, and there are a ton of moms. It wasn’t our kids, but it could have been.”

(courtesy photo)

Two woman, holding spoonfuls of granola-like cereal, and a boy posing for a picture

The Mega Church

”We were going through what are the things that God wants us to support this year,” said Brennan Hill of Crossroads church in Cincinnati. “The stories coming out of Flint were devastating. It was tugging on all of our hearts to be part of that.”

For a week, members of the interdenominational megachurch ate nothing but beans and rice and drank only water, donating the money they saved to a fund offering support for several efforts in the Cincinnati area and around the world. The church donated $30,000 to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. “Just a little sacrifice can make a big difference,” Hill said.

(Screenshot from Crossroads video)

Big Sean

The Hip Hop Artist

Hip-hop star Big Sean was heartbroken by the potentially life-altering impact of lead poisoning on the children of Flint, said Rashon Massey, a board member of the musician’s Sean Anderson Foundation. “He really pushed to not only give a donation, but build beyond a simple donation.”

In January, the Detroit rapper launched an online fundraising campaign. “Immediately, we saw support from fans across the world,” Massey said. “It’s not like folks have a lot. I remember when we launched it, we thought if we could get $25,000 we’d be thrilled.” The fund has raised $80,000 for long-term needs of Flint kids. “In a time with so much negativity, this is refreshing,” Massey said. “Outside the limelight, what made this work is people sharing.”

(Photo by Rashon Amiel Massey, courtesy of The Sean Anderson Foundation)

Rabbi Greg Weisman posing for a photo inside his temple

The Temple

“The Torah teaches us we have a responsibility to take care of the needy,” said Rabbi Greg Weisman of Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Fla., in sending $100. “As Jews, tzedakah is charitable giving. That can be physically, monetary, anything. We look at what’s going on in Flint and see a community that has been discomforted, and we said to ourselves, ‘What can we do to help?’ We owe it to those of us who are less fortunate.”

(courtesy photo)

Six tap dancers performing on a stage

The Tap Dancers

Tap Water for Flint brought dance groups together from the University of Michigan (including RhythM Tap Ensemble, pictured above) as well as Flint and Southeast Michigan for an April show on the Ann Arbor campus, raising $2,300.

“Donations are needed more than ever. But more than just throwing money at the problem, we hoped with our event to bring people together, provide a space for creative expression, and put the community at center stage,” said an event organizer, Meredith Njus.

(courtesy photo)

Hollywood Helps Flint logo

The Hollywood Set

“It hit me pretty hard,” said Alex Grossman, a Hollywood writer and director. “I’m from Flint. I have two little kids, and I was going to get some water late one night for them and I thought, ‘Holy shit, what if it was them in Flint? What if I was getting water for my kids and it was poison?’ That would never happen in Santa Monica.”

Grossman called other Flint ex-pats he knows in Hollywood for a fundraiser at local restaurant. They shipped in Koegel’s and Vernors and had performances by local musical acts. The event and subsequent donations raised about $31,500. “Clean water is such a basic right. This isn’t just about kids in Flint, it’s all kids.”

(courtesy graphic)

Paul Metsa pointing at a poster for a Water For Flint benefit

The Hollywood Set

“It hit me pretty hard,” said Alex Grossman, a Hollywood writer and director. “I’m from Flint. I have two little kids, and I was going to get some water late one night for them and I thought, ‘Holy shit, what if it was them in Flint? What if I was getting water for my kids and it was poison?’ That would never happen in Santa Monica.”

Grossman called other Flint ex-pats he knows in Hollywood for a fundraiser at local restaurant. They shipped in Koegel’s and Vernors and had performances by local musical acts. The event and subsequent donations raised about $31,500. “Clean water is such a basic right. This isn’t just about kids in Flint, it’s all kids.”

(courtesy graphic)

Sticky notes on a bulletin board with a banner saying "Johnson Controls' heart is with Flint"

The Office

Workers at auto supplier Johnson Controls’ office in Plymouth held three fundraisers for Flint kids raising $5,000, which the company matched.

“The response from employees was heartfelt and overwhelming,” said Byron Foster, executive vice president of Johnson Controls Automotive (An informal record of their donations, above). “This situation in Flint is devastating. We’re focused on the path forward and trying to be part of the solution to help those affected by this health crisis.”

(courtesy photo)

Erinn Smiley-Studier and Monica Spiers taking a selfie with food on an island behind them

The Chefs

Erinn Smiley-Studier, left, and Monica Spiers used to operate a business preparing and delivering meals to busy families. A decade after they closed shop, the Lake Orion residents revived it to raise money for Flint. “We thought, what can we do in terms of our talents to contribute to this cause,” said Smiley-Studier. “We didn’t know what this would produce, small or big, but we wanted to do something.”

Over four weekends, they prepared family-sized meals and delivered them to donors’ doors. All told, they raised $3,800. “We were back in the kitchen again, 10-12 hours a day,” Spiers said. “It was really a gift back to us. There was so much benefit for us personally, for our children to get the message of giving back.”

(courtesy photo)

Teacher Carmen Little and students in her third-grade classroom

The Third-Graders

Third-graders in Carmen Little’s Northview Elementary School class in Jennings, Mo., were upset about the news coming out of Flint. “At first they were angry that the government would allow this to happen,” Little said. “Once they learned the lifelong effects of lead poisoning, they were heartbroken.”

More than 85 percent of Northview students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, but they would not be deterred. Students hawked refreshments at a school dance and a movie night, and sold candy-grams for Valentine’s Day. They donated $554.65 to Flint. “They wanted to do something to help,” said their teacher.

(Photo courtesy of Carmen Little)

Russell Muits holding up a manhole cover print, with another on each side of him on the ground

The Manhole Cover Artist

Moved by the lead poisoning tragedy, artist and graphic designer Russell Muits drove from his base in Boston to Flint to make fine art prints of manhole covers. Muits has created manhole cover prints from most major cities east of the Mississippi.

Three prints will be auctioned in September on his website, with the proceeds going to the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. “It’s such a heartbreaking story,” Muits said. “So I just called them up, and they said it was one of the most interesting offers they’d had.”

(courtesy photo)

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Sat, 08/27/2016 - 12:33pm
So proud of you Claire! ! This is so inspirational, really goes to show that you can do anything no matter who you are if you apply some effort! Everything your doing is for the right reasons, and there are very few out there that really care anymore! Your parents and I are very lucky to have an influence like you in your generation! Keep up the good work, never look down, you will bring great things to this world!
William Plumpe
Sun, 08/28/2016 - 3:08pm
And after the Flint water disaster Americans would actually consider electing a Republican/businessman/outsider to be President of the United States because "he speaks his mind"? Just because you speak your mind doesn't mean you can't say something really stupid. You've got to be kidding. Think of the Flint water disaster on a national scale. That's the risk for America if Trump's elected President.
Tue, 01/24/2017 - 4:20pm

congress is taken care of the water program .building and installing new pipeline..Just not in FLINT ...Washington D.C First