On Saturday, everything became a water jug: empty milk cartons, orange Home Depot buckets, containers once filled with gasoline.
After a dangerous microcystin spike rendered local tap water toxic, thousands of northwest Ohioans roamed the region in search of something to drink, to wash dishes, feed pets, and cook meals. So far, the region's ongoing water advisory has affected more than 500,000 people.
Rebecca Brown, 44, had spent several hours searching for water before she arrived at Central Catholic High School at around 2:30 p.m.
She showed up when she heard about a family from Swanton distributing free water outside the athletic complex. Before that, Ms. Brown and her family had been making do with melted ice.
"Thank the Lord I have a big stainless steel pot," the Toledo woman said as she hauled two small containers, both freshly flush with cold water, to her car.
The folks from Swanton -- farmer John Myers, plus his wife, son, and a neighbor -- had arrived earlier with 450 gallons of water from the Myers' family farm. Mr. Myers' son Jeremy estimated they'd distributed about 75 gallons of water about the time Ms. Brown arrived. Some residents, without containers for a more permanent supply, dipped their faces under the cool stream for a brief drink.
The Myers family weren't the region's only good Samaritans. The Kitchen for the Poor on Vance Street received donated water from three young men, who drove up from Bowling Green to deliver 20 sports water bottles, six smaller plastic water bottles, five 5-gallon water containers, and a giant cooler they bought from Walmart.
"I was born and raised in Bowling Green and have never moved anywhere else," said Aidan Hubbell-Staeble, one of the local students who made the donation. "Our sense of northwest Ohio pride and community is really strong, and we just wanted to help out where we could."
Over in Whitehouse, red arrows marked the path to water at the local fire station, where residents filled up buckets and jugs with water from the Swanton reservoir. By midafternoon, volunteers there had served more than 160 carloads.
"As long as we can continue to get water here, we'll continue to do this," said Martin Fuller, the fire department's deputy chief.
Two firefighters from Summerfield Township, Michigan arrived at the Waite High School distribution center at about 5 p.m. with 1,000 gallons of water. Several spots over in the same lot, the owners of C&R Mobile Wash parked with their own tank of water and empty containers of mayonnaise they'd received from Spaghetti Warehouse.
"Wash your dishes, water the dogs," said co-owner Bryan Cook of the water, which came from the Oregon Fire Department. "It's drinkable, just a little rusty."
The city's animals also benefited from donations. Workers at Lucas County Canine Care & Control said they'd received more than enough water to sustain operations.
But for humans, water was not everywhere -- at least not fast enough to alleviate long lines.
"I feel like I'm standing in a Russian breadline," said Toledoan Cathy Krauzer as she stood in the Central Catholic water queue at about 5:30 p.m. Earlier that morning, Ms. Krauzer had traveled to Monroe for six cases of water for neighbors and family, which she bought with the money she'd intended to use for her monthly water bill.
"I don't know how I'm going to afford to do it," she said of paying those fees. She said she's considering not even paying at all.
By 6:30 p.m., with the line at Central Catholic nearly wrapping around the building, a truck filled with pallets of Kroger water jugs arrived. Residents cheered as the vehicle approached.
"When the first truck ran out, a lot of people left," said Rita Piekutowski, 68, who said she'd waited nearly 90 minutes for water. "Unfortunately, they're going to have to come back or wait in line someplace else."
Contact Brian Buckey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6082.
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