By ASHA DAWSEY
Capital News Service
LANSING — Eradajere Oleita has a tradition on her birthday of finding some way to give back. So as her 25th birthday approached last year, the Detroit resident started looking for her next project.
She found it scrolling through Facebook when she came across a woman from England showing viewers how to iron foil-lined snack chip bags into sleeping bags.
Oleita said she used that video as a blueprint to start the Chip Bag Project.
“This is a project that allows me to really bring two of my passions together, people and the environment,” Oleita said. “We throw so much (stuff) away all the time and never really thinking about where that’s ending.”
Each sleeping bag requires a minimum of 150 chip bags — from family- to snack-size — and can take up to four hours to complete. According to Oleita’s website, the foil is sealed together and lined with foam.
Oleita started making sleeping bags by herself in mid-December, collecting more than 3,000 chip bags to produce three sleeping bags. The project has since expanded into a team of millennials who collect donations and create more sleeping bags.
Oleita said she plans to continue the Chip Bag Project throughout 2021.
Once each sleeping bag is complete, it’s paired with other winter essentials such as socks, gloves, hats and other donated items to be distributed around the streets of Detroit to people who live outside.
“Every time we get a chip bag we’re taking something,” Oleita said. “That’s something that’s not going into our water, and when we give somebody a bag we’re giving warmth, we’re helping a human life. We’re training people to not be careless with their things.”
Volunteer Allantae Steele said people appreciate Oleita because she’s authentic.
“Man, just her charismatic energy, her being herself, her accent, being from where she’s from originally,” Steele said. “She’s always herself.”
Oleita immigrated to the United States from Nigeria with her mother and two siblings when she was in fifth grade. Her father later followed.
The Chip Bag Project is just the latest environmental project for Oleita, although she prefers the term “humanist activist” over environmentalist.
She’s also worked with the Youth Energy Squad, a Detroit-based program better known as YES that teaches students about environmental sustainability in their schools and communities. One of her first large projects as a green school coordinator was creating a 6-foot-tall Minion character out of recycled plastic bottles at the Detroit Leadership Academy.
“Before, I would always feel like climate change, sustainability and environmental things were topics for other people and not topics for people who look like me,” Oleita said. “It was a place and a space where I could educate people who look like me about the things that were happening around them.”
Those who work with her say Oleita works hard at all her projects.
“She’s really dedicated to all of her passions,” said Kayla Rice, a volunteer for the Chip Bag Project.
Oleita wants to bring attention to environmental issues that are specific to Detroit, including air pollution.
A 2017 plan to reduce air pollution in Detroit by the University of Michigan School of Public Health and community partners in Detroit found that exposure to pollutants cost $6.9 billion to the city and surrounding communities and caused about 690 deaths, 1,800 hospitalizations and emergency department visits and hundreds of thousands of work and school absences.
“When you bring poverty with low economic opportunity then you start to see predatory practices by big corporations,” said Oleita, who suffers from asthma. “It’s sad that people, companies and corporations put economic opportunity over human life.”