I know, I know. You have a lot of bags - tote bags. Conferences, special events, gifts, the little backpacks from the 5Ks you used to run, the extra bags you buy when you forget your "regular" tote bags at the grocery store, and more.
Here in Pittsburgh, we have an opportunity for you to put those bags into use with a new purpose - helping our neighbors using food pantries.
The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project collects new & gently used tote bags for distribution to the region's food pantries - more than 300 in an 11 county area in Southwestern PA. In Pennsylvania, 1 in 7 people are hungry today. We are helping, one tote bag at a time. We are helping make it easier to carry heavy donated groceries home, reducing the dependency on disposable bags and freeing up money to be spent on food.
This is a first-of-its-kind effort to change a system, well to change one single piece of it. And we've been very successful for an all-volunteer project: more than 13,000 bags donated in one year. That equals helping 5,000 families and reducing the use of disposable bags by at least 40,000.
And the bags are being reused. One local pantry in a vulnerable Pittsburgh neighborhood reports that the majority of their clients are bringing the bags back month to month. That's change we can all support.
Why tote bags? Well, I have the "privilege" of forgetting my bags. I can buy a few more w/o too much of a stretch. I can handle the zillion extra trips to the car to unload plastic bags. I can even put items in my trunk without a bag. Put me on a bus with a child and a mile walk with my groceries and suddenly the tote bag becomes even more critical.
Our project collects bags through individual drop-off spots (more than 15), organized tote drives and from corporate and conference donations (love to see the extra BlogHer 2012 totes!) Our goal is to build a model that can be replicated around the nation at other food banks.
It is a lot of work. We've built a massive coalition of hunger, human service, environmental, crafting, and meeting planning organizations. We even have Pittsburgh cartoon museum (The Toonseum) as a partner! We rely on social media to drive our PR and volunteers to staff our efforts. But the beauty is that we are offering a practical win-win solution - putting gently used tote bags to a new use. Frankly, isn't everyone better off if those bags in your closet, under the sink and in the trunk see the light of day in the hands of your neighbors?
More information is available at our website, The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project.
If you attend a conference, ask for a few extra bags. Feel free to mail them to us to help us reach the critical mass we need to build that model (complete with a proprietary database - did we mention this is a lot of work?) You can also donate them in your own community.
Donations can be sent to:
The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project
P.O. Box 99204
Pittsburgh, PA 15233
We are also creating an international network of tote bag projects. If your community has a project incorporating totes - for any reason - please let us know ... our member projects help fire victims, cancer surivors, bereaved parents and more. The tote is a powerful tool.
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