From Chip Bags to Sleeping Bags: A Detroit Woman’s Mission to Aid Displaced Communities

In a world where over 82 million people are forcibly displaced due to conflicts, persecution, and natural disasters, the global crisis of displacement is more critical than ever before. This staggering number, reported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2020, underscores the urgent need for innovative solutions and compassionate leadership.

In the heart of Detroit, a city known for its resilience and innovation, Eradajere Oleita’s Chip Bag Project is making waves, one chip bag at a time. This nonprofit initiative, founded with a love for the city, has transformed the way we view those empty chip bags, proving that they can be a beacon of hope for those experiencing homelessness or displacement.

Oleita’s journey began as a personal mission to give back to her beloved Detroit on her birthday each year. In 2020, amid the tumultuous backdrop of a global pandemic and social unrest, her vision crystallized into what we now know as the Chip Bag Project. Inspired by a chance encounter with a woman using chip packets to craft blankets, Oleita saw potential beyond the discarded wrappers and embarked on a mission to turn them into lifesaving sleeping bags.

“We really wanted to bridge the intersection between social justice and environmental justice by doing a project-based demonstration of sorts and it started off as a birthday present to the city from me because every year for my birthday I do some kind of community project,” Oleita said.

In 2020, the year of chaos and tragedy also amplified the true meaning of clarity and vision for Oleita. “This was my birthday present, and it was supposed to last three to four months.” Little to her surprise, this was a gift that kept on giving, even three years later.

The brilliance behind this project lies in the very material of those chip bags. Their mylar reflective surface, akin to emergency blankets, can efficiently mimic and retain body heat. When you slip into one of these repurposed chip bag sleeping bags, it becomes an instant incubator of warmth, offering comfort to those in dire need.

In Detroit alone, a city with its own share of economic challenges and a history of racial disparities, there are over 7,000 individuals experiencing homelessness on any given night, as reported by the Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND). In this context, Oleita’s project serves as a lifeline, addressing a critical issue that disproportionately affects the Black community. It is a powerful testament to the impact that a young Black woman can have when she takes the lead in addressing the needs of her community.

The Chip Bag Project is more than just a mission to repurpose snack bags into sleeping bags for the homeless. It’s a movement reflecting the spirit of innovation, ingenuity, and community that has always been the foundation of this great city. In each stitch, in each transformation from waste to warmth, lies a testament to the community’s capacity to rise, adapt, and uplift one another.

The landscape of Detroit has seen drastic changes—old buildings coming down, new structures going up, all in the name of a so-called “revitalization” that has unfortunately pushed out families who’ve been here for generations. Oleita feels the weight of this displacement, this economic eviction disguised as progress. What often goes unacknowledged is that Detroit is incomplete without its people—the makers, the doers, the shapers of legacies. They carry the soul of Motown in their steps and the fire of the furnaces in their eyes. Though displaced, they are not forgotten; though without a home, they are not without a community.

In these challenging times, when the winds are cold and the nights colder, initiatives like the Chip Bag Project offer more than physical warmth. Oleita’s nonprofit, Chippin In, forged partnerships with local organizations to amplify their impact. Beyond sleeping bags, they assembled warming kits containing essentials such as hats, hand warmers, and socks—items crucial for survival on the streets. The first year saw the distribution of 1,000 warming kits, a number that skyrocketed to an astonishing 15,000 in the second year.

What’s truly remarkable is the overwhelming support this project has garnered. Since its inception, donations of chip bags have poured in relentlessly, accumulating a staggering 2.5 million pounds of foil. This outpouring of support extends far beyond Detroit, as chip bags from all corners of the globe, from Singapore to Australia to Africa, have found their way into the project’s embrace.

However, the exponential growth of the Chip Bag Project, while heartening, presented its own set of challenges. The project had begun locally but quickly transformed into a global phenomenon. Oleita acknowledges the overwhelming nature of the response but views it as a testament to the urgency of the mission—a global conversation about climate change and the pressing need for collective action.

“I was funding everything out of my own endeavors and I had to find lots of side hustles just to pay my rent but there was not a day that you would turn on the television and you wouldn’t see my face, this was my purpose, this was my calling, but I was getting zero money,” she expressed. “I didn’t have the knowledge, or I didn’t know anything about with this kind of project, in addition to the chips, financial support to operate would play a major role.” Although this was a reality for her at that time, she decided to regroup and came back stronger with a tighter plan – for she knew that her work would not be in vain.

In a world where Black individuals are disproportionately affected by issues such as homelessness and displacement, Eradajere Oleita’s leadership is a shining example of the power of representation. Young Black women like Oleita are often underrepresented in positions of influence, but her dedication and vision have broken through barriers.

As a testament to the project’s expanding influence, a branch is set to open in Nigeria this year. This marks a pivotal step toward broadening the conversation about climate change and sustainability on a global scale. Additionally, the Chip Bag Project is embarking on a sustainability tour across countries in Africa and Asia, furthering its mission to raise awareness about climate change and promote sustainable practices.

“Today, Chip Bag’s mission is to increase the conversation around sustainability through demonstration. So, through activations, being part of panel discussions, creating the products that we create, and doing so world-wide,” Oleita expressed. “As for Erada’s mission, I just want be a human and continue to human around the world and be respectful to the earth and to other people that inhabit it and most significantly, make sure that I’m leaving this place ten generations better than the last generation.”

In a world often marred by divisions, this project is a shining example of what can be achieved when individuals come together with a shared purpose—to make the world a little warmer, one chip bag at a time.

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