WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Monday saluted former President George H.W. Bush for more than two decades of efforts to push volunteerism and national service, as the Bush family patriarch sat smiling in a wheelchair at a ceremony in the White House.
The 89-year-old Bush used the phrase "a thousand points of light" in his 1988 Republican presidential nomination speech to praise the work of volunteer organizations and came back to the theme in his 1989 inaugural address and other speeches.
Bush established the "Daily Point of Light" award during his one-term presidency to recognize and promote volunteer work.
"I suspect it's harder for you to see something that's clear to everybody else around you, and that's how bright a light you shine - how your vision and example have illuminated the path for so many others, how your love of service has kindled a similar love in the hearts of millions," Obama told Bush.
Bush, who was hospitalized for about two months in late 2012 and early 2013, was rolled onto the podium to sustained applause from former aides, friends, lawmakers, volunteers and representatives of the business community.
The current and former president presented the 5,000th "Daily Point of Light" award to an Iowa couple, Floyd Hammer and Kathy Hamilton, who are the founders of a nonprofit that has delivered more than 200 million free meals to children in the United States and around the world.
Bush and his wife, Barbara, had lunch with the Obamas at the White House before the event.
"It's like coming home for Barbara and me with the rest of you, just coming to this magnificent house and being greeted by this superb hospitality," the former president said during the ceremony.
Obama also announced the creation of a new task force that will identify ways to expand national service and volunteerism in conjunction with government agencies and to enlist private sector support for national service.
In the past year, the government has created volunteer groups that work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on disaster response and with the Education Department to improve school performance, the White House said.
Obama and Bush were last together in April at the dedication of the presidential library of Bush's son, former President George W. Bush.
(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Paul Simao)