-- As thousands of Detroit residents struggle without water, one woman is reaching out to an unlikely source to help pay for her overdue bill: PETA.
The catch? Leslie Turner will have to go vegan for thirty days as part of a deal she struck with the animal rights group.
"I heard about it on the radio," said Turner, a 46-year-old social worker who lives in Detroit's Conant Gardens neighborhood. "This would be a tremendous help -- it will be one less expense that I have to worry about."
Last week, Turner mailed her overdue bill -- amounting to $147.12 -- and a pledge to go vegan to PETA, which recently announced it would pay the bills of 10 Detroit citizens who agreed to stop eating animal products. The group's offbeat campaign takes advantage of the recent water crisis in Detroit, where residents owe more than $89 million on past-due accounts, and more than 7,000 people have had their water shut off in recent weeks, prompting chaos in the bankrupt city.
"It was unwarranted, and it was a surprise to a lot of people," Turner said of the shutoffs. "People have been trying to contact the water company to make payment plans and also had been going to the water company, but the lines would be horrendous or they weren't even able to get in."
Turner said her water hasn't been shut off yet -- she's on a payment plan -- but is worried it would be soon. She has a job, but says she still struggles to pay her bills.
Despite some criticism, PETA calls its latest campaign a "win-win situation."
"We had a generous PETA member who saw this as an opportunity to help people in need, while also helping animals," said PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt. "Not only will people get their water bills paid, they'll be introduced to a healthy, plant-based diet that will reduce their costs in the long run."
Critics might argue that a vegan diet -- popularized by celebrities and health nuts -- is anything but cheap, which would pose a problem for the financially-stricken residents of Detroit, where the unemployment rate is 14.5%. But Rajt said eating vegan is simpler than most people think.
"A lot of people hear about all of these celebrities who are going vegan, so it makes it seem like it's very elite or expensive, but the fact is that a lot of the foods that most of us eat every day are already vegan and they're very low-cost," she said. "What is more budget-friendly than a healthy dinner of rice and beans, for example? Or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or pasta with marinara sauce?"
For Turner, she's happy to eat vegan if it means her bill will be paid. And it will: PETA says her check is in the mail. Besides, Turner adds, the new diet will probably be good for her.
"If I eliminate dairy and animal products I may be able to come off my blood pressure medicine," she explained.
She has no doubt she'll be able to stick to a vegan diet -- and the "welcome" basket of vegan goodies that PETA is sending her will help. But the diet restrictions turned off some of her family and friends who heard about PETA's offer.
"Not very many of them think they will be able to consume just vegetables and fruits and grains, and not have meat products, so that's the major drawback I've heard," Turner said.
Detroit residents interested in PETA's campaign must mail in their overdue bills and a pledge to go vegan before this Friday. So far, Rajt says they've received five applications.