Adventures in Swag – Helping Our Neighbors

This week, I’m attending the Netroots Nation conference in Rhode Island. The exhibitors hall opened up today and I spent a few hours staffing the Netroots Connect LGBT table along with Ledcat. I took a quick trip around the exhibits but I’ll go back when things fill up a bit.

Netroots Official Tote

So far, we’ve received two bags. The first is a plastic bag distributed at the preconference with some discount cards for local restaurants and a copy of the Providence LGBT magazine, called GET. Today, we received our official Netroots tote bag.

This is where I might explain my relationship with swag. I volunteer (and founded) a project that collects tote bags (new and gently used) for distribution to the food pantries in 12 counties of SW Pennsylvania.  In 14 months, we’ve collected over 16,000 bags – this translates into serving over 7,500 households and families and reducing the use of 48,000 disposable bags.

We also collect swag for reuse – we create gift baskets (“toteskets”) and put some of the useful items to reuse for our admin duties. We just received a donation of 19 boxes filled with totes and swag from Leeds, Inc – it was like swag heaven.

This swag came in the bag ...

Ledcat made me promise I would limit the amount of extra swag I picked up around the conference because we are limited in what we can transport home on the Megabus. I’m struggling with temptation!  The project has a history with Netroots – I came up with the idea in July 2009 and when Netroots came to Pittsburgh in August that same year, several of my friends arranged for the extra bags to be donated to us! That was pretty exciting. We are already in talks to work together next year to redirect excess bags and swag to our project.

You can read more about The Pittsburgh Tote Bag Project here.

We current have 4 special projects/themes going on

Collecting 20 suitcases for a residential program for young women ages 13-21.

Collecting 500 backpacks to distribute to homeless veterans during Operation Stand Down. (I already spoke with OutServe about partnering on this one.)

A Food Pantry Pride drive to encourage LGBTQ persons to seek support from this valuable resource.

A drive focusing on childhood Summer Hunger to raise awareness of the impact on children when they lose access to school breakfasts and lunches.

GET magazine is the LGBT magazine for Providence

More information on how we partner with conferences/convention and reuse swag is available here.

One of the conference attendees indicated he was interested in hunger justice – I’ve never heard that term before. But it seems appropriate when I consider that even serving 120,00 per month the Pgh Food Bank is meeting only 35% of the need, when I remember than 1 in 5 children goes without food this summer, as I recall that the average adult relying on food stamps and food pantries skips 10 meals a month. There’s an injustice in these figures. The looming cuts to SNAP (food stamps) and a reduction in the PA appropriations for food purchase are going to hurt people already struggling. Add to that the folks who will losing their disability cash assistance payments, the veterans losing access to D&A services and the untold number of other people losing services and things do not look good.

The way we help is by continuing to build a model that not only serves an immediate need to access more food (carry more food) but also changes a system – several food pantries are fully stocked and redirecting donations of bags to the project. They are focusing on reuse now. That happened a lot more quickly than we imagined.  When we are finished developing our database system and refining the program, we’ll be able to share the model with other cities and hopefully, significantly increase our impact.

But for now – we are helping our neighbors, one tote bag at a time.  If you would like to donate your tote bag to the project, you can find me around the conference (@PghLesbian24) or you can use the mail to send bags

P.O. Box 99204 Pgh PA 15233

Thanks for your support!