GILBERT, AZ — Amanda Ferguson and her family spent the 4th of July determined to save lives, carrying a cooler around the Riparian Preserve in Gilbert in an effort to honor the memory of her late brother Bill.
“We’re giving out free water, just want to remind everyone to stay hydrated and safe today,” Ferguson said to one park visitor.
In August of 2013, Bill, an Army veteran, father and husband went for a bike ride with friends off the Beeline Highway.
He was 31 at the time and in great shape. He also had extensive experience in rugged terrain. He was prepared with water but sadly one wrong turn turned deadly.
“I was at work and there was a sticky note that said call Kyle, your brother is lost,” said Ferguson.
By the time he was found, Bill had died from heat exhaustion.
“It shows that you can make good decisions, you can be prepared but it only takes one small change in plans to make a perfect normal situation very dangerous and even deadly,” said Ferguson.
Since 2019, she and her sister have been spreading that message and his story through a nonprofit called Bottles for Bill. They collect bottled water donations as part of the Mesa Hydration campaign.
“We started in 2019 and since then we’ve distributed over 189,000 bottles of water,” said Ferguson.
“She’s taken a tragedy and her own family’s situation and really just continued her brother’s legacy for something really beautiful,” said Mandy Hodges with the United Food Bank.
Hodges says the Hydration Drive is in its 17th year. This year they have a goal to collect more than 750,000 bottles. Once collected, they are then passed along to partners to give out across the state.
“These are organizations that are on the front lines for human services, Paz de Cristo, St Vincent De Paul, there’s some street ministry groups that are out there distributing water, as well as park rangers,” said Hodges.
For Ferguson and her family, it offers a way to heal from their loss, hoping to prevent others from experiencing a similar tragedy. Therapy would not be possible without the generosity of so many.
“We are so grateful to all those that have participated in this alongside us over the years,” said Ferguson.