Operation Rehydrate aims to provide ACS students with water bottles

Not long after her children returned to school following Christmas break, Chelsea Elliott received a letter from one of their teachers that she described as “heartbreaking.”

The note informed her that some of her children’s classmates were going without water for long periods of time during the day due to a shortage of reusable water bottles.

“We didn’t know it was a problem until it was a problem,” she said. “To me it just seemed like a trivial problem for these children to have. They’re learning their sight words and their numbers, their basic math skills…they shouldn’t be worried about a device that they’re going to drink out of for the day.”

Throughout Anderson Community Schools — and other districts — lingering concerns from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as sporadic mechanical issues, have kept many water fountains unused. Bottle filling stations were installed in each building soon after students returned to classes, according to ACS spokesman Brad Meadows, and those continue to be used. The district’s facilities department is working with officials at each building to return the fountains to regular use, he said.

However, like other habits borne from the pandemic, a personal water bottle has become part of students’ accessory collections for school — much like backpacks and Chromebooks. But those reusable bottles often get misplaced or left at home.

“This is just one more thing where there was a hole that was created because of the pandemic,” said Chelsea’s husband, Dustin Elliott. “Because we got those letters from the school, we felt inclined to do something about it.”

Chelsea Elliott posted about the problem on Facebook, and soon boxes of new, reusable plastic water bottles were being delivered to her front porch. Dustin began reaching out to several local unions he had connections with — including those representing Delco Remy and Guide Lamp — and soon the couple had raised nearly $3,000 to purchase hundreds of reusable plastic water bottles.

The community outreach project, dubbed Operation Rehydrate, isn’t intended to furnish only water bottles, however. The Elliotts have reached out to LifeVac, a company that manufactures anti-choking devices, with a proposal to place a LifeVac kit in every classroom in the district. With about 500 total classrooms, and with each kit costing about $70, they would like to raise at least $10,000 toward the cost of placing one in every classroom in the district.

“Having a device like the LifeVac in a desk for a teacher could be the potential difference between life and death,” Dustin said. “That, for us, means everything.”

Donations have come in from several organizations, including the Anderson Water Department’s Utility Workers Union of America Local 108, businesses including Cogswell & Associates in Carmel, and many area residents. Dustin said plans are in the works for several fundraising events and other efforts to bring attention to the cause.

Meadows said district officials appreciate knowing that there are families willing to step in when a problem surfaces.

The Elliotts, he said, “are a prime example of parents stepping up to help the students and schools in our district. We are pleased to continue working with them, as well as any individual or organization that is interested in supporting Anderson Community Schools.”