Photo courtesy of Sam Stoner

Volunteers at Gift &Thrift, an MCC Thrift shop in Harrisonburg, Virginia, installed 180 solar panels in November 2016 to help provide electric to the shop. With the support of a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, volunteers will add 150 more panels this spring to provide 50 percent of the shop's electrical needs.

Mennonite Central Committee U.S. and Gift & Thrift, an MCC Thrift shop in Harrisonburg, Virginia, announce the receipt of a $50,000 grant award that will support their solar energy initiatives.

The award, given by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s Solar in Your Community Challenge, is shared by an MCC U.S.’ partner, Secure Futures, a solar development company in Staunton, Virginia.

The grant initially will be used to support the implementation of a solar power project at MCC East Coast Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and the second phase of a solar power project at Gift & Thrift.

MCC U.S. also will use the grant, which covers feasibility studies and administrative costs for the projects, to establish solar power systems at three additional MCC locations that are yet to be determined. The cost of the solar panels and installation will be paid from the projects’ budgets.

Secure Futures, the same business that facilitated Gift & Thrift’s first phase of solar installation in 2016, will provide technical expertise and oversee the installation for all five projects.

“This partnership is an opportunity for us at MCC to live out our commitment to acting sustainably and caring for creation,” said Bruce Campbell-Janz, MCC East Coast executive director.

“Using solar energy is a faithful response to the climate change realities we see around the world, where droughts and other effects of changing weather patterns really can be disastrous to people we partner with — particularly people living in poverty,” he said.

“I had 50 goats and then lost them all over the last three years,” says Mohammed Asirmo, of Ethiopia, who has lived through several droughts -- the last being the worst.MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky

The Solar in Your Community Challenge aims to expand solar access to low- and moderate-income households; state, local and tribal governments; and nonprofit organizations.

MCC will use the grant not only to help implement its solar projects, but also to demonstrate the benefits and use of solar energy to people who come to the thrift shop and material resources center.

At the material resources center, for example, more than 7,000 volunteers come annually to recycle books and cardboard and pack comforters, canned meat and other humanitarian relief supplies that are shipped to domestic and international locations. The volunteers will learn that 100 percent of the electricity in the building, which includes an MCC East Coast office, will be provided by the sun.

In Harrisonburg, 180 panels were installed by 35 community volunteers in November 2016.  By the end of August, community members will install 150 more panels to supply nearly 50 percent of the store’s electrical usage, saving $14,000 per year.

In Harrisonburg, 35 volunteers helped install the first phase of solar panels at Gift & Thrift.Photo courtesy of Sam Stoner

“This is a great fit for thrift shops,” said Deb King, MCC U.S. national thrift coordinator. “They already recycle, reuse and resell things. It’s great to see that thrift shops would look at not just their functionality, but how they incorporate responsible, sustainable practices for their own businesses. This is taking their work a step further.”

Some of the volunteers who have learned to install solar panels at Gift & Thrift will help teach volunteers at future MCC projects, King said. Secure Futures calls those projects “solar barn raising projects” because of the way volunteers will work together to install the panels, an example of mutual support like the Amish tradition of barn raising.

“The inspiration for this innovation resides with the Mennonite traditions and values,” said Tony Smith, chief executive officer of Secure Futures.

Concern for the environment and respect for God’s creation has been part of MCC’s approach to its work for years, but only recently has MCC ventured into solar energy.

MCC Central States started its solar project in 2013 and this year, the West Coast MCC office in Reedley, California, and the MCC U.S. office in Akron have implemented solar power systems.

Solar panels have been installed on part of MCC's Welcoming Place in Akron, Pennsylvania.MCC photo/Dennis Kready

Dennis Kready, maintenance manager for the Akron office, has been at the forefront of MCC’s solar initiatives. As MCC continues to demonstrate success with these projects, he expects to acquire additional funding.

“Our partnership with Secure Futures is invaluable in providing us with financing opportunities and connections that enable us to own solar systems at a reduced cost,” said Kready. “This leads to reduced expenses, which are always of concern to nonprofits such as MCC who seek to maintain low operating costs.

“These savings over the 40- to 45-year life of the solar system will free up organizational funds for our primary objectives of relief, development and peace in the name of Christ, both domestically and around the world.”

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