Thelma Newbury holds one of the reusable produce bags she made in her South Surrey studio on Thursday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

South Surrey/White Rock grandmothers raise $8,000 while reducing plastic waste

Oneness Gogos started making, and selling, reusable produce bags

A group of Semiahmoo Peninsula grandmothers might have stumbled on a $1 million idea, however, they’re admittedly too “bagged out” to keep the momentum going.

Last February, the philanthropy group Oneness Gogos began toying with the idea of making reusable produce bags.

Much like the reusable cloth grocery bags found at most supermarkets in the province, the bags the grandmothers decided to make were designed to replace the flimsy one-use bags found in the produce section.

About seven grandmothers collected their efforts, purchased 300 yards of netting, and began crafting the produce bags in a variety of sizes.

READ ALSO: Drowning in a sea of disposable plastic

But what they didn’t expect, Thelma Newbury and Anne Hartnell told Peace Arch News Thursday, was how popular the bags would be.

Since April, the grandmothers – in partnership with six grocery stores in the Semiahmoo Peninsula – sold nearly $8,000 worth of the bags in just six market days.

The Gogos sold the bags at ‘pop-up’ sale booths at grocery stories, with proceeds dedicated to a foundation that supports African grandmothers.

“The first time we were out at a store, we sold $472 (worth of bags) and we thought holy shucks,” Newbury told PAN. “And then the next day it went to $624, and then it went to $721 and the last time it was $1,001.50 in one day.”

When the women initially planned to sell the bags, they thought a couple thousand dollars would be “astronomical.”

“Lots of people do know about the Gogos and they’re a little bit looser with their pocket change when there’s an organization involved, four little old ladies sewing bags,” Hartnell said.

The success of the program, Hartnell said, motivated them to manufacture the bags at an accelerated rate. She described an assembly-like system, dozens of unfinished bags would go from house to house until they were completed.

READ ALSO: Liberals to announce plan to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021

“We haven’t put pressure on each other. The pressure came when the stores said yes, then dates were being slotted and things were selling. We thought we had to keep making them because there’s going to be more stores and we’re going to sell out.”

Hartnell and Newbury agree that there’s potential in the idea, and they’ve already learned of one company, based out of Salt Spring Island, that manufactures reusable produce bags for profit.

“You know, for once, we’ve been ahead of the curve,” Hartnell said.

The bags are selling in sets for $14, or a large bag for $6; a medium bag for $5; a small bag for $4 or a “really small” bag for $2.

The women have enough bags and material to sell a further $5,000 worth.

But after that, the operation will cease to exist – at least for now.

“When we finish, that’s it,” Hartnell said. “We’re burned out.”

“We’re bagged out,” Newbury corrected her, adding that it has been a full-time job making the bags.

“Like I said, I’m bagged out and when that material is done, that’s enough for me.”

READ MORE: Surrey seniors group prevents 43,000 plastic bags from going to landfill

The South Surrey/White Rock Gogos are quite fortunate to have Newbury’s talents among their ranks.

Newbury’s South Surrey home is decorated, from floor to ceiling, with intricate fibre art pieces she created. She has a room in her house dedicated to the craft. Her artwork can be viewed at http://www.thelmasfibreart.ca. Reusable produce bags can be purchased at her website, or by emailing onenessgogos@gmail.com

The South Surrey/White Rock Oneness Gogos chapter is one of more than 240 across Canada working in support of the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Launched in 2006, the initiative was a response to the crisis faced by African grandmothers caring for children orphaned by AIDS.



aaron.hinks@peacearchnews.com

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From left, Anne Hartnell and Thelma Newbury, both part of the South Surrey/White Rock Oneness Gogos, hold examples of the reusable bags they made. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Thelma Newbury sews together a reusable produce bag in her South Surrey studio on Thursday. (Aaron Hinks photo)

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