The fabric bags Lucy Gagnon made for the Smithers food bank. Facebook photo

Smithers quilter makes fabric bags for food bank

Lucy Gagnon inspired by Burnaby woman’s campaign to eliminate plastic bags

When Kelly Spurway, community family services coordinator for the Salvation Army in Smithers, arrived at work last Wednesday there was a surprise waiting for her. Somebody had dropped off 20 hand-sewn, reusable shopping bags.

“I received the bags, I didn’t receive any information on who dropped them off or anything, though,” Spurway said. “They were just in my food bank on my shelf and I was told a lady dropped these off to use for food hampers.”

The woman behind the bags was Lucy Gagnon, a Smithers quilter.

Gagnon had recently bought an industrial sewing machine at an estate sale, which came with a bunch of fabric she couldn’t use. Then she saw a social media campaign called “The Fabric Bag Solution” started by a Burnaby, B.C. woman named Joanne Morneau asking people to make reusable fabric bags and donate them to food banks.

“There was a whole lot of fabric in there that I didn’t want to use for my personal life because it’s not good for quilting,” Gagnon said. “So, it was corduroy fabric and when I saw that on Facebook, I thought I’ll get rid of that fabric that way and because corduroy is heavy duty it’ll stand up very well. I just whipped them up.”

Morneau was inspired to start the campaign after seeing Burnaby students striking for climate action coupled with her own recent experience on a holiday trip.

“While on vacation this year I saw so much plastic debris—bags, toothbrushes, beverage bottles, shampoo bottles, flip flops, styrofoam on beautiful public beaches,” she explained. “I had anticipated incredible snorkeling and instead found the coral reefs that I visited colourless, some covered in green algae and barely any tropical fish that were advertised as having incredible coral reefs and abundant marine life. I knew I had to do something bigger than bringing my own reusable cutlery and food containers, reusable water bottle and reusable commuter mug to work each day.”

Being an avid sewer, Morneau created a simple pattern and posted it on Facebook inviting others to join in. She said the response has been “fantastic.”

“People love the idea that we are using repurposed fabric as well as textile scraps from the fashion and film industry, that we are donating our bags to the Greater Vancouver food bank etc., and that we are helping to eliminate the need for plastic bags.”

In addition to the Facebook page, where potential participants can download the pattern, Morneau is setting up meet-ups. There is one scheduled for Smithers Sept. 28, she told The Interior News.

“I am thrilled that it has spread to Smithers,” she said. “In fact, the Fabric Bag Solution can be replicated all around the globe and I look forward to hearing from more people like Lucy. So many people want to get involved with slowing down climate change but don’t know what to do. Our project connects people, is creative, promotes sewing, is practical, is a solution to eliminating the need for plastic shopping bags and allows all members of society to have a quality-made, reusable shopping bag.”

Spurway said the donation was a welcome one for the Smithers food bank.

“We love to be able to use reusable bags,” she said, adding Safeway and Bulkley Valley Wholesale also donate some of their reusable bags.

“To have homemade ones is amazing… I think it’s a wonderful thing. I just want to thank the lady who made them and donated them because it’s a wonderful asset to our program.”

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