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Big business pitches in to bring Flint kids clean drinking water (+video)

Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Nestle, and PepsiCo have agreed to send a year supply of water to students in Flint, Mich., where local tap water has been contaminated with lead.

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    Michigan National Guard Specialist Joe Weaver delivers supplies to Flint resident Louis Singleton on January 21 as the community's water crisis continues. Residents received water filters, bottled water, and test kits.
    Paul Sancya/ AP
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Wal-mart, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo will donate a year's worth of bottled water to kids of Flint, Mich., the companies announced on Tuesday, joining a growing list of corporate, celebrity, and grassroots efforts to provide safe drinking water after the city's attempt at cost-saving exposed thousands of residents to lead poisoning. 

Collectively, the companies will send roughly 6.5 million bottles to Flint's schools, or 176 truckloads. The district has about 7,000 students, according to the Flint Community Schools website. So many qualify for free or reduced lunches, a common measure of poverty, that the district decided to make all meals free in 2011. Overall, about 40 percent of city residents live below the federal poverty line.

Critics say that's one reason it took so long for Michigan officials to wake up to the severity of the public health crisis after Flint switched public water sources, temporarily pumping water from the Flint River while a new pipeline to source water from Lake Huron was being completed.

When the switch to river water began in April 2014, residents complained about its odor and odd taste, problems that persisted after the pipeline from Lake Huron was put into use. As health problems mounted, officials recommended that residents boil their water, but kept the new water plan. 

After Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards confirmed that many homes' water was testing far above recommended lead levels, which have been linked to serious health and development problems, particularly in children, the government finally declared a public health emergency in October. The Obama administration has also freed up $5 million in federal emergency funds to solve the problem, and state and federal investigations have begun.

"I’m sorry and I will fix it," Gov. Rick Snyder said last week in his State of the State address. "Government failed you at the federal, state, and local level."

Dozens of celebrities and corporate, religious, and nonprofit groups have jumped to help, mostly by sending bottled water to Flint. The Michigan National Guard has helped to distribute water, filters, and water testing supplies to Flint's 99,000 residents.

Wal-Mart and its co-sponsors recommend donating through Good360, a nonprofit that uses donations to help ship supplies from corporate donors to local charities. $4.37, for example, will buy 32 bottles of water. The superstore previously donated $10 million to the site's disaster recovery efforts on the 10th anniversary of hurricane Katrina. 

Since July 2015, the company has already sent 504,000 bottles to Flint. The crisis is "personal to us," Flint store manager Beth Harris said in a press release. "Those affected include our own associates, customers, and their families."

Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and PepsiCo have also donated previously, sending around 79,000; 190,000; and 95,000 bottles, respectively. 

"PepsiCo believes that access to safe water is a basic human right," said Tony West, the executive vice president of PepsiCo's Government Affairs, in the Wal-Mart release. "We are committed to supporting the communities where we operate, and our collective action today will allow Flint school children and their parents to focus on their education rather than where they can find clean water."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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