In 2013, Apache Junction City Councilwoman Robin Barker helped lay the foundation for something that would become life-changing for hundreds of people. Barker provided her water bottle to a woman in need during the summer months.

Knowing how hot it was outside and knowing that, by staying hydrated, you can remain alive, she mobilized and created the “water for a living” drive in Apache Junction. Over the years, the Water for a Living Drive has grown, morphed and been adopted in new communities throughout Pinal County. Six years later, the water drive is organized and led each year by the United Way of Pinal County as part of the Pinal County Homeless initiative.

The drive has evolved. Still sticking to its roots as a water collection effort, in 2018, the UWPC, along with Central Arizona Governments, the Pinal County Public Health Department, Community Action Human Resources agency and communities in Pinal County formed a coalition: the Pinal County Heat Relief Network (HRN). In collaboration with more than 70 government, business, social service and faith-based agencies, this network provides information on hydration stations, refuge locations and water donation sites throughout Pinal County to prevent heat-related deaths among people experiencing homelessness and other vulnerable populations.

In 2016, heat-related deaths took 233 Arizona residents from us. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 38 percent of all Pinal County heat-related hospital visits were due to occupational hazards/exposure. In 2017, the largest population of emergency department visits across the Grand Canyon State were from 20-44 years of age. Of the 2,957 heat-related illness visits, 2,634 were residents of the state.

For the 2019 summer season, the HRN organizing partners set an ambitious goal of 50 pallets of water (110,000 individual water bottles) across Pinal County. Launching the HRN on May 1 and running through Sept. 30, that gave five full months to collect and distribute that water.

It’s been a unique summer. Generous community members, inspiring business leaders and a few unfortunate forest fires in Pinal County have led to tremendous response, so we head into July with 47 pallets already in hand or distributed. The UWPC, in partnership with a local real estate office, Lost Dutchman Realty, and its accompanying community foundation, LDR Foundation, in Apache Junction, successfully held a water drive to distribute water to our local Pinal County first responders.

It is important to note that the crews fighting the Woodbury fire in Pinal/Gila County are unable to accept donations, as they are comprised of state and federal resources; however, what many do not realize is that their brothers in arms, the local Pinal County crews, saw their resources slipping from their grasps at a faster than average pace. The local first responders also help in “disaster mitigation” on top of dealing with their daily calls and emergencies.

Roughly 25 pallets of water, three pallets of Gatorade/electrolyte-style drinks and a pallet and a half of non-perishable snacks were raised and distributed. Local emergency services agencies like the Queen Valley Fire District, the Superior Fire Department, the Superior Police Department, the Oracle Fire Department, Rural Metro and the Gila County Emergency Management office were among the beneficiaries.

The Gila County Emergency Management office received supplies due to the evacuation of the Roosevelt Lake area. An evacuation shelter was set up in the Globe/Miami community for the several hundred residents affected by the evacuation.

We are grateful for this generosity, but we are not done yet. There are three full months of summer heat ahead of us and donations are still needed for our local social service agencies. Pinal County Sheriff’s office alone requires 16 pallets of water, just for their patrol vehicles and services provided.

The UWPC, in partnership with Pinal County Emergency Management, is also looking to place at least eight pallets in various strategic locations in case of an emergency as part of the Emergency Disaster Response Team.

“While we are blown away by the generous nature of Pinal County, we know the work is not done,” said Braden Biggs, community programs manager for the United Way of Pinal County. “We are asking all of Pinal County to #LiveUnited to ensure that we stay hydrated and help our most vulnerable community members in the months to come!”

We are still in need of heat relief stations, hydration stations, drop off stations and emergency refuge stations across Pinal County. If you would like to donate, you can contact the United Way of Pinal County at 520-836-0736. To make a monetary donation or learn more, text UWPC WATER to 313131, or visit www.unitedwayofpc.org/heatrelief.

For more program information, contact Braden Biggs at 520-836-0736 or by email at Braden.biggs@unitedwayofpc.org

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