North Texas Daily

Grassroots community makes effort to hydrate Denton homeless population

Grassroots community makes effort to hydrate Denton homeless population

Grassroots community makes effort to hydrate Denton homeless population
September 15
13:00 2022

Approximately 1,200 people in Denton County will experience homelessness per year, according to United Way.

At times, those who are unhoused have little access to clean, drinkable water. Denton Water Project is a grassroots community effort that aims to help solve this problem.

The group places accessible coolers filled with cold water and other drinks strategically around the area for those in need.

The project began in February 2021 when several apartment complexes around Denton were left without running water during the ice storm. A Facebook post on Denton Basic Services Center’s page, It’s Time to Do, resulted in volunteers donating bottled water and placing them outside of the complexes.

In June 2021, another Facebook post on the same page mentioned homeless people in Denton were without water during the high summer temperatures. Within a few days of the post’s inception, volunteers organized to place water coolers around the city.

The project was originally only supposed to go on through the summer but the need for water remained throughout the year. 120,000 bottles of water have been given out since the project began, Shannon Graham, project organizer and university alumna, said.

A message from the Denton Basic Services Center and Zera Coffee is written on top of a Denton Water Project cooler on Sept. 8, 2022. Photo by Lauren Campbell

Today, Denton Water Project has over 550 Facebook group members and volunteers who refill coolers around Denton twice a day, every day of the week.

“Social media can be a challenge and there’s a lot wrong with it, but when you are able to use it for something like this, it’s really encouraging,” Graham said.

When a volunteer is sick, out of town or otherwise unable to fulfill their shift, members post the shift opening in the Facebook group. Shifts are typically covered within the hour.

Denton resident and volunteer Sara Beth Hooper got involved with the project in February 2021. Since then, Hooper has continued to help distribute water and has a route she refills the coolers on once a week.

“Sometimes when I go [on my route] there will be someone there waiting for water, so I know it’s a measurable impact that I’m making,” Hooper said. “It feels very beneficial to my mental health to be able to have a measurable way that I’m making a difference when there’s just so much that feels heavy right now.”

The project runs completely on donations from the community and coolers are set up at private businesses and churches, such as Zera Coffee and First Presbyterian Church.

Gohlke Pools allows Denton Water Project to store coolers and water bottles in their warehouse, provides ice for the coolers and donated a pallet of water bottles during the summer’s record-high temperatures

A cooler belonging to the Denton Water Project sits outside of Voice of Jesus on Sept. 8, 2022. Photo by Aaron Caskey

The group has looked into bottle filling stations to implement around Denton to replace the single-use plastic bottles currently being handed out but is unable to do so without help from the city.

“We are aware of the plastic that is left behind,” said Graham. “Unfortunately, there’s just not a better option at the time.”

Tyler Dawson, Denton resident and volunteer, has been involved with the project for about two months. Dawson heard about the project through their friends.

Since volunteering, they have had others ask them how to get involved as well. Although it makes them feel good to be able to help others, Dawson said the focus is on the people who directly benefit from the project.

“We get stories every now and then about how big of a difference it makes for some people to have cold, clean water available when they’re without homes or somehow without access to clean water,” Dawson said. 

Graham said when you put something like a water cooler in a public place, you are reminded of those that truly need it.

“We’re all closer to [experiencing homelessness] than we realize,” Graham said. “Not everybody has a support system to keep them from falling through the cracks.”

Featured Image: A cooler belonging to Denton Water Project is located in Quakertown Park on Sept. 8, 2022. Photo by Aaron Caskey

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Kaitlynn Hutchins

Kaitlynn Hutchins

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