Let Them Drink Pepsi? No. But the Beverage Maker is Helping Out in Flint

Pepsi has a global presence; thus, its philanthropic arm, the PepsiCo Foundation, gives the world over. Recently, however, it has turned its attentions to Flint, Michigan.  

The PepsiCo Foundation awarded a $570,000 grant to open two community health centers in Flint. The centers, which are located at Bethel United Methodist Church and the Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, will serve as “one-stop” resources that include the provision of basic necessities like bottled water, food and fresh produce. What is particularly interesting about Pepsi’s grant is that the centers will also offer mental health services.  

The PepsiCo Foundation is not generally in the business of mental health grantmaking. Areas of giving include (ironically) healthy lifestyles, affordable nutrition, access to clean water, sustainable agriculture, job readiness, and empowering women and girls. So where does mental health fit in?

As it turns out, Pepsi has been running its PepsiCorps program in the city for some time now. PepsiCorps was created by company employees and is sponsored by chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi. The overall goal of this program is to leverage the skills of employees and volunteers and deploy teams to “help local communities address societal challenges.”

The program has been operating since 2011, and has completed projects in Ghana, India, Brazil, South Africa, the Philippines and the United States. In Flint, the program has been around for years, and now, it seems the program's so-called societal challenges now include the mental health needs of Flint residents.

The city of Flint, once a thriving city thanks to the auto industry, has fallen so far into decline that over 40 percent of its residents live below the poverty line. Then the water crisis hit.

While the state and the country focused on the most pressing matter of getting clean water to its residents and replacing infrastructure, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the CDC and others got together to assess the toll the crisis has taken on Flint residents. The results were sobering.

According to the assessment, households with adults over 21 saw either new or worsening behavioral health concerns since the onset of the crisis. As well, over half homes with young people under 21 reported that at least one young person in the family suffered the same fate.

Flint was already in crisis prior to the cost-cutting measures officials took that led to contaminated drinking water, which only served to compound the city’s pre-existing problems. And clearly, the water crisis has gone well beyond the issue of water access.

The bottom line is that prolonged crises are incredibly stressful and can lead to increased anxiety, depression and other illnesses. So it's interesting to see how this funder is paying attention.