How Canned Water is Helping Save Lives in Puerto Rico

Whenever a natural disaster strikes, Greg Stromberg’s phone starts ringing.

Stromberg is the founder and CEO of CannedWater4Kids, a nonprofit that sells water in cans. He has a long history with disaster relief efforts — and he has provided thousands of cans of clean water to hurricane-ravaged regions in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico in the past few months.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, 44 percent of the island’s population didn’t have access to clean drinking water because the storm had destroyed water pipes, or chemicals had polluted the water. The situation is only getting worse. As of Oct. 18, roughly 37 percent of Puerto Rico still didn’t have access to clean drinking water.

Prolonged contact with dirty water is linked to diseases such as cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. Over 800,000 people die each year from diarrhea caused by the consumption of unsafe drinking water or poor sanitation.

On Oct. 2, 12 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, the Red Cross called Stromberg with an urgent request: American Airlines had offered to fly a plane loaded with relief supplies to Puerto Rico. The airline was hoping Stromberg could donate 13 skids, or 34,320 cans, of canned water.

It was a tall order. The water was in a warehouse in Wisconsin, near Stromberg’s home, and he had to get it to Philadelphia within 24 hours.

The request came in while Stromberg was busy at his day job. He’s an executive in the canning industry and runs CannedWater4Kids in his spare time. But with his company’s blessing, he stopped what he was doing and went to work fulfilling the Red Cross request. “It was the right thing to,” he says.

Stromberg immediately got to work, and within hours, over 29,000 pounds of clean, safe drinking water in 12-ounce cans was on its way to Philadelphia, and eventually, Puerto Rico. The water accounted for most of the 30,000 pounds of supplies loaded onto the plane.

The Red Cross immediately began distributing the water across the devastated region. “We are so grateful to CannedWater4Kids and American Airlines for their support of our operations through this in-kind donation,” said Don Herring, Red Cross chief development officer. “Generous donations from our partners are essential to our ability to fulfill the mission of the Red Cross.”

This wasn’t the first time Stromberg, who uses the profits from the sales of his canned water to fund clean-drinking-water projects in developing nations, has donated his products. When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, he figured out a way to provide survivors with canned water. “Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had a medical barge in Louisiana that was headed over,” he says. “I made enough calls and finally got two of our trucks on it.”

After the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan, Stromberg sent canned waters to various orphanages.

Stromberg has also sent canned water to residents in Flint, Michigan, as well as survivors of Hurricanes Sandy, Harvey and Irma. Shipping water isn’t cheap. “It costs around $14,000 for me to load a truck with water,” he says. “Overall, we’re about $30,000 in the hole.”

Stromberg counts on sales of his water, available through Amazon and his website, to replenish his organization’s coffers. “We need to restock our inventory so that we can continue to fund our projects in Africa,” he says.

Several can manufacturers, including Crown and Ball, have helped the cause by donating cans. Other companies, like Stoli, bought large quantities of canned water to support the organization.

“I don’t take a salary, and neither does the board,” Stromberg says. “Our reward is seeing pictures of kids with clean water.”

More information about how individuals and companies can support CannedWater4Kids is available on its website.