Collecting New & Used Tote Bags and Backpacks to Help Families Access Food Pantries

6 years ago

A new project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is seizing the imagination of a wide range of partners.  The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project collects new and gently used tote bags for redistribution to clients of the region's food pantries.

The projects partners with Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank which serves 120,000 people each month through 300+ pantries.  Other partners include sustainable/organic food co-ops, a building materials recycling project, the regional convention center and dozens of small businesses who open their stores to set up "drop-off" spots. 

In three short months, the project has collected more than 1300 bags, preventing at least 3900 disposable bags from entering the stream of use.  Many pantries must pay for the disposable bags they use so this also frees up monies to be spent on food. 

In addition, partners as large as Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield to as small as the small staff at Global Links office are setting up employee tote (and food) drives, projects critical to this all volunteer projects support but also have a team building component. 

The project caught the eye of Comic-Con attendees around the nation who are pledging to send their convention tote bags and swag to the project.

Finally, Tote4Pgh has been able to team up with local convention organizers to redirect their excess PR totes to a worthwhile (and tax deductible) project. At the end of a given event, Tote 4Pgh staff will take care of transporting bags.  Some companies find that shipping bags from outside of Pennsylvania to the project is still a better deal that transporting the items home.

The project is popular because individuals can finally rehome all the excess tote bags they'e accumulated and then "stock up" over a year as they attend conferences, shows and events. 

The project can accept traditional tote bags of any style, messenger bags, backpacks, and assorted items.  We will also work with companies to reurpose a large amount of publicity items (such as reusable water bottles or lunch boxes) to programs within the Food Bank's network. 

Items that not usable are sent to the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse to repurpose the materials for art projects, including potential business cards for the project.  Absolutely unusable items are directed in to the Goodwill fabric shredding centers.  We try very hard not to waste anything.

With the back to school season, the project is seeking donations of gently used kids and adult backpacks which make it earier to transport food pantry groceries when using the bus or walking.  We urge bloggers focused on families to promote this particular component over the next few months.

This project is unique as a sustainable project in the United States and took nearly two years to develop.  Plans will be available to replicate the model in other locations.

Donations can be sent to

Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project

P.O. Box 99024

Pittsburgh, PA 15233

Checks can be made payable to "The Thomas Merton Center" (our fiscal conduit).  A list of Pittsburgh based drop-off spots is available on the website in the upper right hand corner.

Please follow up on Facebook at and Twitter @tote4pgh



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