In a previous blog post, we discussed the environmental justice problem of flooding in Chicago – a problem that is only going to get worse as climate change increases the likelihood and intensity of storms in the area.
Yet, in the face of this situation, we have a vision of a different reality. We envision people of faith throughout the region leading the way in reducing basement flooding by installing rain barrels, implementing green infrastructure projects, and planting rain gardens.
As part of that effort, (and as the weather gets nicer), we are ramping up our efforts to distribute and install over 500 rain barrels through faith communities this year in partnership with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Rain Barrel program.
Rain barrels by themselves are incredibly important. A single 55-gallon rain barrel alone can divert 3,270 gallons of runoff water during one rainy season.
Because it’s key to properly connect a rain barrel to a downspout to achieve these savings, our rain barrel program include provisions for job training and compensation to people in the community who are unemployed or underemployed to install the rain barrels.
Rain barrels have even more potential to benefit the community when they are seen as a blank canvas for expressing creativity.
When we engage artists – the creative thinkers and revolutionaries of communities – in our vision for Earth-care, their imagination and ingenuity inspire us to act on problems that might at first seem overwhelming.
Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Parish provided an opportunity for people of all ages to collaborate with local artists on water preservation by hosting a rain barrel painting event on a bright and sunny morning at the end of February.
Located in the Vittum Park neighborhood of Chicago, the trilingual (English, Spanish, and Polish) parish is especially susceptible to flooding during storm water events because of its proximity to underground reservoirs and tunnels that carry water to a nearby water reclamation plant.
The morning began with a presentation by two students, Alexandra Baczynski and Viviana Gonzalez, from Loyola University who highlighted the importance of installing rain barrels to reduce the amount of water run-off entering the streets and sewer system in order to reduce flooding and sewer back-ups.
Local artist Josue Aldana, a well-known muralist from Little Village, lent his talents to the morning by teaching participants how to create stencils and paint the rain barrels. Children from religious education classes, parents, grandparents, and members of the congregation all worked together to cover the rain barrels with bright, colorful images.
It’s a natural fit to engage houses of worship in this project. Faith communities are established gathering places for people in their communities. They are centralized places where rain barrels can be distributed and people can be educated about their importance. Moreover, faith communities hold immense power to inspire change, by appealing to people’s moral convictions about reducing the burden of basement flooding for our neighbors, and preserving water quality for future generations.
Making the utilitarian-looking rain barrels more colorful and beautiful is uplifting to people’s spirits. Parishioners from Our Lady of the Snows parish who helped with the painting filled a cold and gloomy morning in February with joy. And the long-term impact that the rain barrels will have on the community by reducing flooding fills us with hope.
Funding for this rain barrel painting event was generously provided by a Howard Medical Institute grant administered by Loyola University Chicago and the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.