AMES, Iowa — While in Ames, Iowa, amid one of the better Iowa State basketball seasons in recent history, junior point guard Monté Morris could only watch.
In 2014, his hometown of Flint, Mich., began using treated water from the Flint River in an attempt to save money. Soon after, they realized that the river water was corrosive. The city, however, failed to properly treat the water, and lead from the city’s pipes started to infiltrate the drinking water.
Once the elevated lead levels were discovered in residents’ drinking water, the city was forced into a state of emergency. Hundreds of thousands of Flint residents are now dependent on outside help to get clean water.
Yet Morris is over 600 miles away from his hometown, and felt powerless to help.
“It’s been affecting a lot of people, man, to the point where some people have to shower with bottles of water,” Morris said. “You can’t really drink it. You have to boil it down just to get the chemicals out of it if they have to use it.”
Over the past several weeks, Morris has been attempting to draw attention to the issue. He’s spoken out about the crisis several times, and even posted an Instagram video asking for donations to help out.
It was that video and several other articles that caught the eye of Hy-Vee C.E.O. Randy Edeker.
After seeing the news, Edeker decided it was time to act. In honor of Morris, Hy-Vee, a grocery chain based in West Des Moines, sent 11 semitrailers filled with drinking water to Flint on Thursday.
“It brought tears to my eyes when I heard that they were doing it, just because of the struggle back home and how hard it is,” Morris said. “I’m just happy that Hy-Vee is doing this for my city.”
In honor of Morris, who wears No. 11 on the basketball court, Hy-Vee sent 11 total trucks — six trailers filled with water gallons and five filled with bottled water. The trucks left from Hilton Coliseum Thursday morning, and are scheduled to arrive at a designated water delivery location in Flint on Friday.
And while they don’t do much business in that part of the country, Hy-Vee still jumped at the chance to help out.
“We don’t have any stores in Michigan, but caring and helping our communities is a big part of who we are and our culture,” said Hy-Vee spokesperson Tara Deering-Hensen. “When we saw Monté’s desire to want to do more, it really built an awareness with us. We understood that the Flint water crisis isn’t just affecting those in Michigan. It has far reaching impacts.
“Regardless of whether it’s in Iowa or it’s another community, if we have the resources to assist and help, then we will try to do so.”
Morris’ family still lives in Flint, including his mother, who he talks to on the phone every night.
While the conversations are usually about basketball, he said they talk about what is going on back home, too.
“My mom tries to be so tough,” Morris said. “She wants me to stay focused on basketball, so she really don’t tell me if she was really struggling or not. But I know it’s rough back home. The water is coming out orange-ish. You can’t really put words behind that.”
While he said it’s hard to see his friends and family struggle like this, that’s not the toughest part to watch. For Morris, it’s the kids he’s most concerned about.
“My pain is for, of course, my family and friends, but really the young ones growing up,” Morris said. “They’ve been playing outside and they come back in and having to drink the sink water. And if they can’t, they’re wondering why they can’t do it. It just hurts me to see kids go through that.”
With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, and the Big 12 Tournament even closer, most of Morris’ time is taken up by basketball. And while his hometown is still struggling to find a solution to the water crisis, Morris said he’s just happy he could contribute to the solution.
“This right here is big time,” Morris said. “I wish I could drive with the trucks up there and hand them out to the people down there in Flint that really needs the water. It’s a real time right now, and I think doing this just shows I’m all in for my city, Flint, Michigan, and this is what I can do right now just to help.”