Mary Ann Kasper and Sunny DelaLuz of the Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent sort face masks, made of repurposed materials. Submitted photo by Brad Bolton, SRS volunteer

Submitted op-ed

The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent donates to fight local food insecurity

For those who are living anywhere near the poverty line, times are even more difficult right now.

The Portager
Published in
4 min readNov 6, 2020


By Heidi Weisel

Life during Covid-19 is a difficult time. Rare and lucky is the person who would dispute this. Many are facing unemployment, lack of daycare, schooling from home, sickness and even the deaths of parents, children and friends.

Portage County alone has had 1,561 illnesses and 67 deaths among the 185,640 Ohioans who have tested positive for Covid-19, as of this writing. Luckily, most of us have not personally experienced human loss, but we are all experiencing the financial cost of Covid-19. Not only has the price of food, clothing and most other expenses increased in 2020, but supplies are low everywhere. For those who are living anywhere near the poverty line, times are even more difficult.

In Portage County in 2018, the federal poverty income threshold was $25,465 for a family of two adults and two children. The USDA allows an average cost to feed this household on the ‘Thrifty Plan’ of $8,570 annually. Rent generally runs about $9,600 annually in Portage County for a small, two-bedroom, privately owned apartment, leaving about $7,300 annually (or $600 per month) to pay utilities, car payment, insurance, fuel, clothing, school supplies, medical care and the various everyday expenses of raising a family. Remember, this is the ‘eat thrifty plan’ — boxed, bland and not so healthy for every meal.

To help the families in our community make ends meet, the volunteers of The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent (SRS) create beautiful and functional products from repurposed materials to sell, and they donate 100 percent of the proceeds to local food insecurity programs.

Most all supplies, including our vintage sewing machines, are repurposed, redesigned and created with love, so that we can supply our customers with unique, high-quality items to take home or share as gifts. All herbs used to fill our items are organic and locally grown — such as our catnip mice, chakra healing sweet bags and lavender and silk eye masks. Our Bent Tree Coffee repurposed burlap bag luffas are filled with soap shavings from Emily’s Soaps, and Emily supplies the essential oils for our Chakra Healing sachets. The meditation pillows we create have beautiful removable and washable covers made of fine quality upholstery and are filled with nearly 13 pounds of textile waste largely from KSU Fashion School or School of Fashion, saving them from the landfill. We remove derogatory T-shirts from circulation and cut them into ‘tarn’ to use in place of pull-strings and elastic when making bags and masks.

Located in Kent at our new location inside the retired Franklin Elementary school building, SRS has more than 30 volunteers who have made over 13,000 masks, which have been donated to the students of Kent Public Schools and sold to customers of the Haymaker Farmers Market. We are always welcoming new volunteers, and we do everything possible to make our volunteer experience safe and enjoyable. The camaraderie of volunteering with the SRS has been invaluable in helping us all get through 2020 together but separately.

Through the sales of items since 2013, the SRS has been able to donate $10,000 to Kent Social Services (KSS) to purchase a new walk in cooler/freezer in February 2020. We have also donated over $18,000 to the Haymaker Farmers Market to increase the SNAP Produce Perks funds.

This November, the SRS will donate another $5,000 to KSS to purchase much-needed food to feed the community. This earmarked donation will be spent locally at the Akron-Canton Food Bank, where it will buy more in bulk than from other distributors, while also helping the food bank to continue its mission of supporting the tri-county area.

Other food insecurity programs are being researched to make additional donations because the need is great as we enter the winter season and continue to battle the pandemic. If you are able, please make a financial or food donation to your local food bank; and if you need help, don’t hesitate to visit them.

Please keep The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent in mind when considering your holiday shopping! Watch for our extended hours as we plan our holiday boutique.

Follow us on Facebook and on our website to keep up with all the beautiful things we are doing, or contact us at

Weisel is a volunteer at the Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent.

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The Portager
The Portager

We’re the only locally owned news source covering Portage County, Ohio. Our mission is to help our community thrive.