Benton Harbor family navigates Thanksgiving without clean water

Michigan

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. (WOOD) — Thanksgiving looked much different this year for thousands of families in Benton Harbor, as the city continues to deal with the lead water crisis.  

At Bobbie Clay’s home, the water didn’t run. Instead, jugs were used to fill the pots and her kids drank from bottles. 

“Makes it a little inconvenient, for the health of it we know we gotta do it this way,” Clay said. 

Clay said she stopped drinking the water in Benton Harbor years ago because it didn’t taste right, but now she’s had to adjust her entire routine to keep herself and her kids safe. 

“It’s just that the money I’m paying out for the water … to have clean fresh water for us to drink and cook with and stuff like that,” she said.

Empty jugs sit on the floor of her dining room, and gallons and bottles of water can be found in almost every room. There’s a system: The jugs are for cooking, the Culligan is for drinking and the water bottles go with them wherever they go.

“We pretty much got a routine. Pretty much got that down pat,” Clay said.

That routine was no different as Clay and her four kids prepared Thanksgiving dinner together.

“My children are big enough to help me and they’re excited about helping me to cook for the holiday and so we basically already know how to use this water,” she said.

It’s not the Thanksgiving they imagined, but it’s the reality. Clay said her biggest frustration is the bill that continues to come each month. 

“I quit paying on it ’cause I’m frustrated at how high it’s steady escalating and why? And then I just paid a $90 bill for the Culligan,” Clay said. “Then like these jugs here, I have to buy that. I buy that. They’re a dollar a jug but I get like 30 jugs a month.”

It’s costly and inconvenient, but Clay stays positive. 

The Clay family celebrates Thanksgiving. They had to navigate cooking Thanksgiving dinner with no clean running water. (Nov. 25, 2021)

“First of all because of God. We are a Christian family,” she explained. “Me and the children do a lot in the community. They’re on the Benton Harbor water council, they help pass out water, serve food. Every day we’re busy doing something positive.”

That positivity filled her home on Thanksgiving as she counted her blessings.

“I’m most thankful for living,” she said. “Just living and breathing because so many of our family and friends has passed away from this COVID and whatnot so I’m just thankful to God for living for family.”

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