Founder Eradajere Oleita says she wants to continue adding resources that will make the homeless more comfortable – and provide opportunity.
Eradajere Oleita is changing the way we look at chip bags forever. The global studies and environmental science student started The Chip Bag Project after watching a video of a lady in the U.K. using the bags to make emergency blankets. Oletia was inspired and decided to take it a step further by making sleeping bags for the homeless in and around Detroit.
Her passion for sustainability began years ago. Born in Nigeria to a solar engineer father, her parents moved the family over to America while she was in elementary school. After high school, Oleita joined the youth energy squad with AmeriCorps and Enjoy Detroit’s youth mentoring program. During her time with the energy squad, she worked with Detroit Public Schools teaching sustainability by showing them how to create place-based projects, and addressed food insecurity with student-run gardens.
And she brought air pollution awareness to students in southwest Detroit by installing air monitors and teaching them to track the air quality of their neighborhoods. “I am focused on place-based and research-spaced solutionary results to environmental issues,” Oleita says. “I focus on how to get people who don’t talk about sustainability and environmental things to talk about it without it seeming like its white people problems.” During her time mentoring with Enjoy Detroit, she also spent time giving back to the homeless, but she says, “I wanted to do more. How can we have long term solutions?”
She doesn’t believe in recycling – she believes in reusing. She says, “When you are recycling, you think of things as trash.” Growing up in Detroit, most families had a reuse mindset. An empty butter container would become a leftover food container or a pin holder. Grocery bags would become trash bags, and old toothbrushes were used to lay baby hairs and edges. She says, “America has this idea that everything has a lifespan, so we are trying to use things up quickly. Things don’t have a lifespan with a reuse mindset.”
Detroit is home to Better Made chips, and, Oleita says, “You always see the chip bag wind flowing through your neighborhood.” It takes chip bags 80 years to biodegrade. Sleeping bags made from used chips bags seemed like an easy solution for a problem that so many face in Detroit. It took over eight hours to create her first sleeping bag. The chip bags reflect body heat and protect from the elements. After completing a few sleeping bags and before she passed them out to the people Oleita slept outside in below freezing weather to ensure that what she was making would be of good use.
When The Chip Bag Project team passed out the first batch, they got great feedback. They were able to give out four sleeping bags, 250 body wipes, hats and personal protective equipment. This summer, their goal is to go to Los Angeles to help the city’s homeless problem. Oleita says, “I didn’t want to just give people a sleeping bag. I want to give them resources to get them a home. I want to give them socks, toothbrushes, things they need to make their life more comfortable.”
Oleita’s long-term goal is to turn the project into a resource-based initiative, with therapists and counselors on board. This summer, they plan to create cooling centers and to develop a backpack that will act as a cooling pack. She says, “I want little girls to see and think, I can make changes in my city too.”