From the very first Green Up Day back in April 1970 when it took an act of Congress to close down the interstate, to today's iconic images of volunteers with green bags collecting liter, Green Up Day has become a true Vermont tradition. But the nonprofit that runs the whole operation is facing a budget crunch.
"Our situation is as such that we do not have enough support to continue past 2015," said Melinda Vieux of Green Up Vermont.
First, major sponsor Ben & Jerry's pulled out in 2012. Then late last year Green Mountain Coffee Roasters said it will also not continue to support the effort. For an organization with just a $120,000 budget and two part-time staffers, it made an immediate impact.
"It doesn't happen for free. It takes a couple of human beings to make Green up Day happen," Vieux said. "We're experiencing a pattern with corporations, including that a number of them in Vermont have become so successful they have national and international focus and are not as interested in the local Vermont support."
Green Mountain Coffee and Seventh Generation say they have changed their criteria for charitable giving, supporting year-round efforts instead.
Ben & Jerry's issued a statement saying, "we continually reassess and adapt our partnerships on an annual basis."
Green Up Vermont gets 66 percent of its budget from about 15 corporate sponsors. Cities and towns kick in about 17 percent of contributions approved by voters on Town Meeting Day. And the state provides another 14 percent.
Vieux says despite waning volunteer enthusiasm at times in the past, the Green Up tradition remains strong today. She says unlike "adopt a highway" and similar programs, Green Up inspires action on one day across the state.
"I don't know any other state in the country that has such an endeavor that engages people from all walks of life and raises community spirit like Green Up Day does," Vieux said.
Lawmakers might have a fix in the works. A bill in the House calls for adding a voluntary Green Up Day checkoff contribution box to state tax forms.
"It's an opportunity for kids in school to learn about littering and cleaning up their environment. It's a way for communities to come together and I think that Vermonters will want to support it when they're given an opportunity to, so I was really happy to put the legislation in," said Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais.
And the governor says he'd like Green Up to keep going.
"You know Green Up Day is important to Vermont and it's an extraordinary tradition started by Dean Davis," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.
If approved, Ancel says the checkoff box could generate upward of $50,000-- enough green to help keep Green Up Vermont humming along for another half a century.
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