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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2011

Small gesture to mark Earth Day can go a long way

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE COLUMNIST

Want a quick and easy way to celebrate the spirit of Earth Day?

Take your empty aluminum beverage cans to the Toledo Zoo's main parking lot along Anthony Wayne Trail between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday. Hand them over to people standing next to a trailer with a sign that says, "Aluminum Cans for Burned Children."

That's it. No speeches, documentaries, guilt trips, credit cards, or check-writing required.

I've done my best to remain neutral in my 30 years of reporting. But I am hereby admitting a bias in favor of Aluminum Cans for Burned Children (ACBC). Bigger journalistic crimes have been committed than plugging a group of volunteer firefighters and nurses dedicated to healing the emotional and physical scars of children who have survived life-threatening fires, all while relying almost exclusively on the pocket change of aluminum that needs to be recycled, anyway.

Forget that Earth Day isn't until April 22. Most groups recognize it the weekend before or the weekend after when it falls on a weekday. ACBC's bin will be one of several in the zoo's parking lot that day. Anything from computers and TVs to clothes and expired prescription drugs will be collected by various groups, part of the zoo's annual Party for the Planet (toledozoo.org/events/planet). Admission is not required to drop off items.

Earth Day was founded 41 years ago by the late Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator and Wisconsin governor. That first Earth Day in 1970 was one of the largest single-day protests in America's history, drawing upon the experiences of college campus "teach-ins" related to unrest over the Vietnam War. An estimated 20 million people participated. Considering there were 203 million Americans then, according to U.S. Census figures, that would have been about one of every 10 citizens. The U.S. population is now 310.5 million and growing.

Even though I use this column to (hopefully) evoke some passion all of us have deep down inside for the environment (name one polluter who wants to take a vacation inside a hazardous waste landfill), I'm not a big Earth Day guy myself.

It serves its purpose. But I agree with something written in 2008 by a buddy of mine, Peter Dykstra, a longtime CNN executive producer of science and technology programming who recently was named publisher of Environmental Health News and Daily Climate. He lamented how Earth Day has evolved into something that now exposes society's "seamy underbelly" with those genuine, altruistic views of how humans should interact with their environment.

So instead of dwelling on what's wrong with Earth Day, I'll focus on what's right with it.

Firefighters and nurses helping out young burn victims. Nuns extolling the virtues of St. Francis of Assisi, the 12th-century Roman Catholic saint known for his love of nature, children, and animals.

Formed in 1990, ACBC's Northwest Ohio chapter can be traced to a group in southern California called the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, established in 1971 to honor an 8-year-old girl who had died of burns from a backyard barbecue accident that year. A Los Angeles firefighter named Patrick Patterson came up with the idea of collecting aluminum beverage cans to raise a little extra cash for that foundation.

What emerged were a number of ACBC chapters across the country. Northwest Ohio's has spent relatively little money to promote itself; hence, 20 years later, the group is still a relative secret. Its emphasis has been on the kids, with money raised for buying them pressure garments that compress skin and stimulate blood flow. That helps skin heal. The group also has funded a number of outings to help young burn victims connect with one another, from Christmas parties to a summer day camp.

Sometimes, it's the simplest ideas that work best.

By the way, don't forget Arbor Day — which carries the simple message of planting more trees. It is April 29 this year for most states, including Michigan and Ohio.

Arbor Day was founded in 1872 by the late J. Sterling Morton, a former Detroit resident who lamented Nebraska's lack of trees after moving there.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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