New Jersey – A Lakewood businessman has made a big splash in Michigan, donating thousands of bath sponges to residents of Flint who have been relying on bottled water as they deal with the city’s ongoing water crisis.
Mark Bakst, who originally hails from Detroit, is the president of Mars Wellness which sells orthopedic and health and wellness products. Among the company’s offerings is a seven inch square bath sponge, designed for the elderly and immobile, allowing them to bathe without assistance and a bare minimum of water.
“There is soap, shampoo and conditioner in this dried cloth that ultimately allows the user to wash themselves,” Bakst told VIN News. “There is no rinsing needed. You dry off and are good to go.”
Flint resident Jessica Gutierrez, a mother of five, had been looking for a way to bathe her children that would allow her to preserve most of the bottled water she received daily from the city for her family’s consumption. She ordered a package of 25 Latherz sponges from Mars Wellness and left a comment on the site describing the sponges as “life changing.”
The comment struck a chord with Bakst who contacted Gutierrez to hear her story.
“She told us that her children had developed rashes, hair loss and infections, all from the water,” said Bakst. “She has young kids, ages 6 months to 10 years old and she saw rashes on her daughter’s skin turning into boils.”
Touched by her story, Bakst sent Gutierrez a free shipment of Latherz and after she told people in her church about the sponges, Gutierrez suggested a distribution of the product for the children of Flint.
“We wanted to go through proper channels so we contacted WIC and they were happy to pick up on the idea and distribute it on the streets,” said Bakst. “We sent three or four thousand pieces and they gave them out.”
Bakst decided to take the idea one step further with another free distribution of Latherz in Flint.
“She had no idea that we were frum or Jewish,” said Bakst. “We wanted to come out there, boots on the ground and to be there distributing the product in our white shirts and yarmulkas and show them that we cared.”
While Bakst contacted the Jewish Federation and Chabad of Eastern Michigan about the distribution, Gutierrez contacted the local NBC affiliate station who invited both Gutierrez and Bakst to appear on NBC 25’s Today program on May 11th.
“It was the first time we met and she was telling everyone about how this was life changing for her and changed her opinion of business,” said Bakst. “She also said that seeing who was giving it out was really unbelievable.”
The two headed to the Federation’s offices in Flint where together with WIC, the United Way of Genessee County, the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and Chabad of Eastern Michigan, they distributed over 5,000 Latherz and 200 bottles of Vitamin C donated by the children of the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck.
The difficulties faced by Flint residents are hard to believe, according to Bakst, who said that many inhabitants of the beleaguered city are among the poorest of the poor.
“The WIC people told us that many people aren’t bathing their kids at all,” said Bakst. “They would rather risk the smell than the possible health issues from the water. The people in Flint say that while outsiders think the problem has been solved there are thousands and thousands who are still suffering.”
Bakst said that while Latherz is also being used by travelers and campers, he had spoken with a rov about other possible uses for the product.
“He told me that this would be great for the nine days and for aveilim who can’t shower,” said Bakst. “We may be marketing this to the elderly but it’s really taking on a life of its own.”