A week after a chemical spill in West Virginia left 300,000 people without running water, a group of Charlottesvillians are holding a water drive and plan to truck it over the state line starting on Thursday, January 16.
“It’s a crisis,” said Ian Babcock, founder of the new nonprofit Catalyst Productions, which is teaming up with the locally owned Sanger Carpentry to bring bottled water and other goods to the devastated communities several hours west of Charlottesville.
The West Virginia disaster began on Thursday, January 9, after state officials there discovered a 35,000-gallon chemical storage tank owned by a coal company had sprung a leak, and that approximately 7,500 gallons of the toxic chemical known as 4-methylcyclohexane methanol had leaked into the Elk River close to a drinking water plant. In addition to producing a foul odor residents likened to licorice, the contamination sent dozens to the hospital. While state officials slowly began to lift the ban on drinking the water for residents in nine affected West Virginia counties, Babcock said demand for bottled water and other items including paper plates and diapers remains high, and on Tuesday, January 14, state officials had not yet confirmed when all residents would have their water restored.
The chance to provide disaster relief is a core part of Catalyst’s mission, said Babcock, a 26-year-old William & Mary graduate who launched the nonprofit last year as a way to support local artists. Catalyst primarily offers public relations and event planning support to local visual artists and musicians. Funds raised through those events are then channeled back into the community through charitable acts.
Babcock intends to launch Catalyst chapters in cities across the country and, he hopes, eventually around the world.
“There’s so much work that needs to be done in every town in every country on the earth,” said Babcock.
Ray Snably and Zach Sanger agree, and said this is not their first foray into disaster assistance. The duo are partners in Sanger Carpentry and have previously done disaster relief work through the Building Goodness Foundation following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. In that disaster, both men said, they focused their efforts on areas that had not been reached by other relief organizations. They’re hoping to do the same in West Virginia and have been reaching out to towns and churches to determine where the need for bottled water is greatest.
In addition to assistance from Snably and Sanger, who will drive their pick-ups packed with bottled water, Babcock said local activist Brianna Litman has helped organize donations. Students and staff from Jack Jouett Middle School have already contributed to the drive, and Whole Foods is double matching donations of bottled water.
Donations for the water drive are accepted at Kohr Bros. locations and Whole Foods. Babcock said donors can also call Catalyst 24 hours a day at 906-7427 to arrange a drop off. In addition to botttled water, cash and credit card donations are accepted.