A woman fills a bottle at one of SVdP's refilling stations.

Taking steps to sustainably distribute water

Water refilling stations and reusable water bottle donations help SVdP incorporate more sustainable practices while saving lives

As the increases in extreme heat and homelessness coincide, St. Vincent de Paul is handing out more water bottles than ever, distributing 6,500 bottles of water daily to attempt to meet demand and help the Valley’s most vulnerable avoid heat illness and possible death.  

For more than a decade, Maricopa County has seen record-breaking heat-related deaths climb year after year with numbers increasing by the hundreds.

This is why SVdP has made it a priority to get water out into the community, especially to the people living on the streets. It does so mainly by distributing single-use plastic water bottles, but also has established a handful of sustainable refilling and sanitization stations at its charity dining rooms, where guests can refill their reusable water bottles.

Unfortunately, single-use plastic bottles are what most immediately meet that widespread need, although they come at a notable cost to the environment.  

A guest reaches for a water bottle in one of SVdP's Heat Relief locations.
A guest reaches for a bottle of water at one of SVdP's heat relief locations.

“I hate plastic as much as the next person,” SVdP Director of Drives and Partnerships Emily Radawec says. “But SVdP’s few dining room refilling stations can’t by themselves meet the water needs of the entire Valley homeless population, leaving us with a continued reliance on single-use bottles of water.”

Beyond that, SVdP also considers the safety of those it serves, who often already have troubled health and greater risk for complications.

“Often times people don’t realize what a health risk reusable water bottles are for people living on the street when they don’t have access to clean, running drinking water and can’t fill them or properly clean them,” says Cherylyn Strong, SVdP director of Family Support Services.

That’s one of the main reasons SVdP invested in establishing refilling stations at its dining room locations to offer guests ready access and appropriate cleaning space. Furthermore, SVdP continues to pursue refilling and sanitization stations in additional locations in order to more sustainably meet the water need of the community, but it can’t do it alone.  

“It’s going to take more widespread stations that will require additional funding, and more importantly, additional government and community partners to make this water distribution method a social service standard,” SVdP Chief Program Officer Jessica Berg says.  

That’s why donations like the gift of several thousand Stanley tumblers to SVdP from Stardust Building Supplies is a step in the right direction and is already having great impact.  

Stardust Building Supplies is a local nonprofit that focuses on the “reuse” side of the “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” triangle. They take in donated building materials from house renovations, replacements, corporate surplus, and more, and sell them at affordable prices. This keeps landfills from filling up with valuable materials that still have use, as well as offering affordable alternatives for those renovating on a budget (not to mention a sweet tax write-off). Stardust also uses donations and some of the proceeds to fund their Gifts in Kind program, which donates materials to other local nonprofits, like SVdP.  

Karen poses in Stardust's Mesa location.
Karen Jayne stands in Stardust's Mesa location.

When they received a donation from Stanley of thousands of tumblers that otherwise would have been on their way to a landfill, Stardust CEO Karen Jayne thought it might be a good contender for the Gifts in Kind program.

“I thought about our heat in Arizona and how difficult it is for folks to stay hydrated, especially if you're just using plastic water bottles, and they're not great for the environment,” Karen says. “This truckload of water bottles seemed to fit perfectly with what Stardust does related to environmental work and the need in our community with folks who have such difficulty with the heat.”

She immediately thought of SVdP’s water relief services, especially at its dining rooms which turn into cooling stations each summer and the two water trucks the nonprofit has running routes seven days a week to deliver water to remote encampments and people living on the street.

SVdP handed out all of the tumblers within weeks of receiving them, and they’ve become well-used and quite popular among the guests at SVdP’s shelters and dining rooms.

A guest at SVdP's Phoenix Dining Room uses his stanley tumbler to take a sip of water.
Johnny Sanders sips from his Tumbler in SVdP's Phoenix Dining Room.

“I use it all the time for everything… It has been really useful. It’s like a second arm,” says Charles Bean, a guest at SVdP’s Phoenix Dining Room who received one of the tumblers and makes use of the refilling station at SVdP. “Now that I use this, I don’t use any plastic water bottles.”

Johnny Sanders, another guest at the Phoenix Dining Room, agreed that his tumbler was very useful. “I'm only supposed to drink two bottles of water a day because I'm on dialysis, so it's a good measurement. It's the perfect size.”

This is the path that SVdP hopes to work toward — one that doesn’t have to compromise between life and sustainability. Reusable water bottle donations are a good first step with hopes that more community partners will come alongside SVdP to increase refilling and sanitization stations across the Valley. 

Give water to those in need

Join the annual ABC15 Water Drive, which helps SVdP fill its empty shelves full of water in time to meet the increased summer need.

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