To the Editor:

It has been one of my greatest pleasures this past 14 months (since November 2019) to work with the women of the Repant! Tote group and I have volunteered to share a bit about how it began, and what the fruits of our labor have been.

In addition to the incredible bond that these women have formed, we have created and sewn more than 425 custom totes from up-cycled men’s slacks, decorated with t-shirts, fabric scraps, and various other textiles. The concept was created by District Exchange volunteer Susan Lowe of Albany, with the support of Maryvonne Wheeler. After doing considerable research as to how many thousands of pounds of cast-off clothing are buried in landfills throughout the United States each year, along with the fact that the Town of Bethel had been considering banning single use plastic bags, Sue and Maryvonne thought this project would have a positive environmental and community impact.

From the start, the totes have been made available in several locations in the Bethel area, and those who wanted to “purchase” them have been asked to make a donation to the Bethel District Exchange and Food Pantry – relying on the honor system. Each tote has an attached envelope. 100% of the proceeds go directly to the Exchange to support three programs – the Bethel Food Pantry, the SAD #44 school backpack program, and the Smile Fund – which provides funding to individuals who are in need of restorative dental work.

Even with the challenges that 2020 brought, the sewing volunteers made approximately 400 totes, bringing more than $7,000 to the District Exchange. In addition to those who spent time at their sewing machine, we had volunteers who donated and cut fabric, made the tags, checked on and refilled the displays and were cheerleaders for the cause. Several locations have provided space for displaying the totes, including the Gem Theater, the Philbrook Place Shops, Great American Ski Renting Co., the Museums of the Bethel Historical Society, Barking Dawg Market, True North Adventureware and DiCocoa’s Bakery & Café. We have recently consolidated the displays to the last three on this list for the winter.

We welcome new volunteers to the project! Donna Gillis has graciously opened her quilting studio at the Robinson House of the Bethel Historical Society on Tuesdays from 9am – noon. She has pants, materials, tags, belts (for straps), sewing machines and, best of all, her great sewing tips. It is a COVID safe atmosphere, as all sewers are asked to wear masks and come only if feeling well. If a volunteer would prefer to sew in the comfort of their own home, the current volunteers are more than happy to provide a quick tutorial on making a one-of-a-kind tote!

Thank you to all the volunteers who have made this project possible, and to all those who have “purchased” the totes for themselves or for gifts. This is a special community!

Robin Zinchuk

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