Volunteering & Giving
October 19, 2022

Helping communities access clean water

Wells Fargo partnered with organizations to provide clean water and resources during recent water crises in Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi.

a blue graphic representation of water in motion

It’s becoming more common to hear about areas of the United States unable to access safe drinking water. Reasons range from crumbling infrastructure to natural disasters and more, and much of the time, underserved communities are hit the hardest. Research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “households without secure water access were more likely to be low-income, nonwhite, renters, and immigrants.” 

Recently, Jackson, Mississippi, and Baltimore, Maryland, each experienced their own water crisis. Thanks to quick thinking and strong partnerships, Wells Fargo supported organizations with water relief efforts in both cities.  

“It’s an unfortunate fact that structural and racial inequities have put both Jackson and West Baltimore at a bigger risk,” said Monica Mitchell, lead Social Impact and Sustainability specialist for the Wells Fargo Foundation and a Baltimore native. “The communities that were affected in both areas are majority Black communities where the infrastructure is not as strong and more at risk. It’s a common thread.”

Coming together to distribute bottled water in West Baltimore

Over Labor Day weekend, E. coli bacteria was found in samples of West Baltimore’s water supply, leaving residents to boil tap water before use for a week.

After learning of the water crisis, Mitchell contacted Otis Rolley, president of the Wells Fargo Foundation and a Baltimore resident.

Turns out the two were thinking the same thing: Wells Fargo needed to help any way it could. Within a few hours, Mitchell had secured a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation through collaboration with Anna Bard, head of the company’s Employee Volunteerism, Charitable Giving, and Disaster Response for the Wells Fargo Foundation. Mitchell reached out to Wanda Best at the Upton Planning Committee, an organization that has worked with Wells Fargo for years on economic and community investments in West Baltimore.

“We know these neighbors, we know these nonprofits, and we know that this is a historically underserved community. We were concerned that residents of West Baltimore might not be able to get access to the water they needed. We had an opportunity and the capacity to help.” — Monica Mitchell, lead Social Impact and Sustainability specialist for the Wells Fargo Foundation

“When things happen, they happen to us, too,” Mitchell said. “As Wells Fargo employees, we live here. We know these neighbors, we know these nonprofits, and we know that this is a historically underserved community. We were concerned that residents of West Baltimore might not be able to get access to the water they needed. We had an opportunity and the capacity to help.”

Text says:

Mitchell said putting a plan into action was a team effort with the grant paying for the bottled water and its distribution. She even helped connect the Upton Planning Committee with a commercial Wells Fargo customer who had access to a truck able to haul the 24,000 bottles of water that were given out to approximately 2,400 residents.

“The Upton Planning Committee was able to establish six water distribution sites in the core area affected by the water crisis in a matter of hours,” said Rolley. “This was based on how we need to be showing up as One Wells Fargo — it was the commercial side, the foundation side, and the community coming together so that by the end of the day bottled water was being given to people at multiple sites.”

Meeting critical needs in Jackson

In Jackson, years of ongoing water issues, coupled with severe flooding that damaged its main water treatment facility in late August, left the city’s nearly 150,000 residents with a major water crisis. It was so severe, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency, and recently, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it was working with city officials to reach a legal agreement to address the city’s ongoing water crisis. 

Michael J. Ryan, Wells Fargo district senior manager for the southeast region of Mississippi, had already developed a relationship with Jackson State University from teaching financial literacy courses. He reached out to Ruby Fenton, Wells Fargo senior Social Impact and Sustainability specialist, and Marilyn Drayton, Wells Fargo senior Social Impact & Sustainability manager who oversees the southeastern region and Florida, to find out what could be done to support to the Jackson community during the water crisis.

Drayton was able to secure a $50,000 grant, with $25,000 going to the United Way of the Capital Area for water drives, delivery of meals to local shelters, and gas/gift cards to families in Jackson communities; and $25,000 for Jackson State University, one of the largest HCBUs in the country, to support its Gap Fund, which helped approximately 100 students affected by the crisis get the water, food, cleaning supplies, and toiletries they needed. 

“We had an overwhelming response of individuals donating water, because they recognize water is a critical need. The folks who came out understood the importance of giving back to people who were 912 miles away from them because they had experienced some of the same challenges before.” — Dewey Norwood, senior lead consultant for Wells Fargo Diverse Segments, Representation, and Inclusion

“The city of Jackson is 82% African American and has a low concentration of homeowners, and with Jackson State University housed there, we were mindful of the critical needs of students who were also being impacted,” said Drayton. “We are closest to our community and nonprofit partners when disasters strike, so our goal is always to respond in a manner that best supports access to critical basic needs in times of crisis. We reached out to the United Way as they have a 211 response model to connect individuals with local resource providers.”

Bottled water for Jackson was also collected in Miami as part of the Wells Fargo sponsorship of the Orange Blossom Classic, an iconic HBCU football game between Jackson State and Florida A&M universities in early September. The water drive drew a constant line of cars and garnered more than 1,500 cases of water, said Dewey Norwood, senior lead consultant for Wells Fargo Diverse Segments, Representation, and Inclusion.

“We had an overwhelming response of individuals donating water, because they recognize water is a critical need,” Norwood said. “The folks who came out understood the importance of giving back to people who were 912 miles away from them because they had experienced some of the same challenges before.”

In both Baltimore and Jackson, Wells Fargo was swift to offer support as “good neighbors and corporate citizens should do,” said Rolley.

“These are some of the many opportunities we’ve had and will have in the future to support community-based organizations that are doing direct service,” Rolley said. “We should be providing grants and investing in them. Relationships matter — it’s because we have good relationships that we were able to move quickly.”