Green-Up Day is in trouble. Earlier this year, news reports noted that three major corporate sponsors had opted not to renew annual donations that had comprised about 20 percent of the non-profit organization’s approximate $120,000 budget. Efforts to find other sponsors are ongoing, says Melinda Vieux, who heads the organization, but she noted that if they can’t come up with extra funds they would have to curtail efforts by 2015.
She’s optimistic she will find additional funding, but the organization’s struggle should make Vermonters take notice and respond in ways that strengthen the 44-year-old institution.
The initiative began under Gov. Deane Davis in the spring of 1970 and was run by the state until it became a non-profit in 1979. Funding has rarely been an issue because expenses are kept pretty close to the vest; volunteers provide almost all the labor and corporate sponsors have been able to make up the rest.
But nothing is cheap these days. To distribute the 46,000 tell tale green garbage bags last year cost $12,500. Vieux and two part-time staffers work for months helping the state’s 251 towns plan and coordinate events with each town coordinator to great success. On average, Vermont citizens help pick-up about 40,000 bags of roadside litter each year.
This year Vieux went to the legislature for additional help and Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, has an idea to create a box on state income tax form that taxpayers could check off if they want to donate a few dollars to the Green Up effort. The expectation is another $25,000 to $50,000 could be generated. It’s a smart idea that deserves support.
But individual Vermonters can step up to the plate as well, not just by donating a few dollars, but also by generating enthusiasm in each and every town Green Up Day event.
Neighbors could start now by planning get-togethers that weekend (or before) and deciding who’s cleaning up which areas and where the barbecue will be afterward; someone in the group calls the town coordinator (preferably sooner than the day before) to share their plans and learn of any other specific needs the town coordinator may have. Town coordinators are already working with local businesses and others to plan community wide events and allocate resources to specific areas of the town where neighborhoods are less than prevalent (along Court Street in Middlebury, for example, or along town highways that run through many towns). None of this is rocket science, but it does take active communication and coordination from several folks in every community.
If Green Up Day is to survive and thrive past 2015, it will need more than money from a few sponsors or even more money from state taxpayers. What it needs most is community involvement, public enthusiasm and the ability to recreate itself every few years to keep the event fresh and energetic. As Smokey would say, “only YOU can make that happen.”
Angelo S. Lynn