On Monday, Secretary Vilsack was in Zanesville, Ohio for a Rural Tour town hall focusing on green jobs and a new energy economy. After the forum, the Secretary visited Maple Terrace, a public housing facility for low-income senior citizens. He led an interfaith service event highlighting President Obama’s United We Serve volunteerism initiative. Secretary Vilsack joined local Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders to distribute energy-efficient Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) to Maple Terrace residents.
Secretary Vilsack reiterated President Obama’s call to service and talked about the importance of people of all faiths and backgrounds working together to solve our country’s greatest challenges. He also discussed the role of energy efficiency in the long-term sustainability of the American economy, including provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that promote green job creation. In addition, pointed out that many of the seniors at Maple Terrace receive a box of groceries each month from USDA through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
The event was co-organized by Eastside Community Ministry, a local ecumenical organization that offers an emergency food pantry, an after-school program, a clothing bank, and an emergency relief program; and Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, a non-profit group devoted to empowering a religious response to climate change and promoting energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.
Ohio families supplied the light bulbs for the event as a way to offset their carbon footprints. As compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive than traditional incandescent bulbs, many low-income seniors would not ordinarily be able to afford the up-front cost of purchasing them. However, each bulb saves approximately $59 over its 5-8 year lifetime, so the long-term benefits of CFLs are remarkable. By purchasing CFLs for these seniors, donating families were able to both help people of limited income to save on their energy bills and offset their own environmental impact.
Monday’s event also served as a perfect kickoff to United We Serve’s focus this week on interfaith service. Eastside Community Ministry was the site of a July 1, 2008 campaign speech by then Senator Obama on the importance of faith-based and community organizations:
“You see, while these groups are often made up of folks who’ve come together around a common faith, they’re usually working to help people of all faiths or of no faith at all. And they’re particularly well-placed to offer help. As I’ve said many times, I believe that change comes not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up, and few are closer to the people than our churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. That’s why Washington needs to draw on them. The fact is, the challenges we face today – from saving our planet to ending poverty – are simply too big for government to solve alone. We need all hands on deck. I’m not saying that faith-based groups are an alternative to government or secular nonprofits. And I’m not saying that they’re somehow better at lifting people up. What I’m saying is that we all have to work together – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim; believer and non-believer alike – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
Rev. Bob Davidson, Executive Director of Eastside Community Ministry, said: “The event was very informative. The residents of Maple Terrace deeply appreciated the savings they will receive as a result of using their new light bulbs.” Dr. Greg Hitzhusen, Executive Director of Ohio Interfaith Power and Light, added that “the event catalyzed a lot of excellent community involvement. Residents were thrilled to be able to meet Secretary Vilsack.”
Overall, this event was a great opportunity to highlight interfaith service and cooperation. It also allowed Secretary Vilsack to showcase the important role that energy efficiency can play in our economic recovery and the health of our planet.