Northampton Church, synagogue team up to buy water filters for Puerto Rico

  • Portus Stevedoring stevedores prepare to load FEMA water for shipment on ships taking supplies to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico in Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday. Bob Mack/The Florida Times-Union via AP

For the Gazette
Published: 10/5/2017 9:37:13 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Pastor Irv Gammon was watching coverage of the Hurricane Maria aftermath and saw a disturbing image: a group of Puerto Rican children drinking brown water from a stream.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was said to be shipping millions of liters of water to the U.S. territory, but Gammon recognized this was only a temporary solution. He racked his brains for ways to help the multitudes of Puerto Ricans that are without a stable supply of clean drinking water.

For the past week, Gammon and Rabbi Riqi Kosovske of Beit Ahavah synagogue, which shares property with the Florence church, have been raising money through their respective congregations for water filters to send to Puerto Rico.

“I had received an email address about these LifeStraws some time ago from someone who knew I liked hiking, and it’s like a really large straw. With it, you can literally drink out of a mud puddle or stream on the trails,” Gammon said. “It will get rid of bacteria and viruses.”

Wanting to help as many as possible, Gammon contacted the company LifeStraw to see if he could get a discount for buying the filters in bulk. Ultimately, they gave him a discounted price — around $50 instead of $75 — for each LifeStraw Family that the church and synagogue want to buy and donate.

The LifeStraw Family, Gammon said, is similar to the original LifeStraw used for hiking, but is larger and better suited for disaster relief. Gammon said that each LifeStraw will purify 18,000 liters of water, removing over 99 percent of bacteria and viruses.

“It’s basically enough water for a family for one year,” Gammon said.

The group has raised $8,300 in the last week for the LifeStraw Family water filters. Gammon said the goal is to raise at least $10,000, enough for 200 filters, and he is optimistic because of how successful the fundraising campaign has already been.

“It’s $50 to save a family,” Gammon said. “You can give up Dunkin’ Donuts for a few mornings and participate in the project.”

According to Gammon, people are less reluctant to give a tangible item like a LifeStraw Family to charity than they are when it comes to money donations. Money can get caught up in administrative costs, and sometimes never reaches the hands of those who need it, Gammon said.

Gammon also said that the filters are more beneficial to hurricane survivors than giving bottled water; they leave no garbage, and you can apply the filtration to almost any water source.

“It’s the same idea as ‘you can give people fish to eat and they’ll eat for a day, but teach them to fish and they’ll eat forever,’” Gammon said

Gammon plans on hosting a demonstration of the devices at the 130 Pine St. church soon, and film a video to inspire others to donate.

A network of churches in Puerto Rico is slated to receive and distribute the filters once they arrive, but the items’ transportation to the island has yet to be worked out. According to Gammon, LifeStraw does not ship directly to Puerto Rico because of issues with theft, but he is talking with several contacts, and is confident they will figure something out.

The charitable effort is the first “major” collaboration between the church and the synagogue, Gammon said, although the groups have worked together before on “small things.”

“Even though our traditions are different, there are commonalities between us. We all have an opportunity as well as a responsibility to reach out together,” Gammon said.

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