John Joines extended an open invitation Wednesday to executives from Empire District Electric Co. and its parent company, Liberty Utilities, to visit Joplin and the Economic Security Corporation any time.

"You don’t even have to bring $500,000, just bring enough to buy my dinner," the chief executive officer of ESC joked after receiving a donation toward the organization's weatherization assistance programs for low-income residents.

The donation was one of three made by Empire at a ceremony Wednesday, all for $500,000, totaling a $1.5 million contribution to community action agencies that, among other things, provide assistance to families by improving the energy efficiency of their homes. 

"We’re all together in this," said David Swain, president of Empire. "And a lot of folks that don’t have the opportunity or don’t have the means to be able to take care of their home and take care of their family. This is our opportunity to be involved in that. We’re humbled and honored to be able to do that."

Swain said the longstanding relationship between Empire and operations such as ESC has resulted in $2 million in customer energy savings since 2005. Joines said that relationship has extended beyond donations such as Wednesday's, even into things such as rate cases and increases.

Others that will share in the donation total are Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, which serves a 10 county-region in the Springfield area; and West Central Missouri Community Action Agency, which serves nine counties between Joplin and Kansas City, and east toward Lake of the Ozarks. Most all of the individuals served by the three agencies are in Empire's service area, the company said.

"Words cannot define and cannot measure how thankful we are to have the opportunity to work with Liberty Utility, Empire District," said Chris Thompson, president and CEO of West Central. "And for you all to provide the resource that you provide to us and most importantly our families, thank you. I can’t say too much more than that because it doesn’t matter; what matters is I can tell you that we will be good stewards of those dollars. We will make sure that our families are benefited by the use of those dollars in appropriate ways and people will have better places to live as a result of that."

An ESC crew spent Tuesday and Wednesday this week installing weather stripping and other efficiency equipment at a home in rural Carthage. The organization's waiting list is short in Barton and McDonald counties, so assistance could be available quickly, said Deb Markman, resource development director.

"I feel very fortunate to be able to help people, especially the less fortunate," said Joe McManus, crew chief of the project in Carthage. "We’re just trying to make people’s lives better. We’re here to help.”

Community service

David Swain, Empire District president, said the company will also begin a program called "Liberty Days" in which employees will be given time off from work to donate their time for a charitable organization in the area. Liberty Utilities' more than 700 employees will have three Liberty Days each per year, Swain said.