After the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) issued "boil water advisory" affecting about 100,000 residents and businesses in the central and eastern parts of the city on Jan. 31, East End Cooperative Ministries (EECM) acted quickly to see that community needs were met.
When the advisory was issued on Jan. 31, volunteers, residents and staff began making sandwiches, gathering fruit and other items for bag lunches to replace the cooked meal usually provided free of charge to about 150 people at lunchtime each day. They also extended an invitation for anyone in need of a meal, clean water, or more information to join them.
The precautionary advisory was issued because testing discovered low levels of chlorine in water at the Highland Park reservoir and distribution facility, a condition that could allow giardia contamination. Giardia ingestion can lead to intestinal infections, but none were reported that could be attributed to the water supply, according to PWSA.
The order prompted the city school district to close 22 schools and two early childhood centers for Wednesday. Coffee shops and restaurants were using bottled water and shelves for bottled water were emptied in many stores.
Besides community nutrition programs, East End Cooperative Ministries offers IMPACTS (Individuals Making Progress and Changes Towards Self-sufficiency), which includes services ranging from shelter for the night to transitional services; and a variety of programs to help children and youth to succeed.
"We have both a 51-bed and a 10-bed facility and we had to provide non-tap water for drinking, brushing teeth, and washing hands," said the Rev. Kellie D. Wild, an United Methodist elder who serves as director of the IMPACTS program.
"In the 51-bed facility, we provide three meals and two snacks a day -- which all had to be done without tap water," she said. "Again, staff volunteers and residents came together, chipped in and did what was needed so that there was drinking water as well as water available for hygiene. We will need to continue to do this because we still need to change all of our water filters, and flush out multiple places where there is access to water – bathrooms, kitchens and water fountains."
In partnership with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, EECM accepted donations of clean water and served as a distribution site for those who could not afford to purchase bottled water in sufficient quantity or were not able to travel to one of the sites where the city was providing water.
"We were able to purchase water from our vendors and supply that water to the community," Wild said. "We did this yesterday (Wednesday) and will continue today through the weekend as people recover from the water issues and get back to normal.
"It is our mission and 47-year legacy to respond to community needs with opportunities and resources," EECM said in a public notice.
United Methodist churches in the affected areas managed to continue normal weekday operations with little disruption and the advisory was lifted Thursday morning.