Food pantry

Olean Food Pantry volunteers assembled in the warehouse of the Leo Moss Drive facility Friday to make dozens of cloth tote bags from T-shirts that had been donated by the Pulaski Club of Olean. Shown (front left, clockwise) are Kathy Parker, Kim Wolfrom, Patti Gulnac, Walter Schultz holding a bag full of food cans and Linda Witte.

OLEAN, N.Y. — There are times when needs are met without even asking.

That was the case Friday when volunteers at the Olean Food Pantry opened a couple of unexpected boxes of donated T-shirts from the St. Stephen's Club of Olean and realized they could be repurposed into much-needed cloth food totes. The cloth totes were given out to food pantry recipients as soon as they were made.

DB Busan, warehouse manager at the Leo Moss Drive facility, said volunteers who had arrived for work at the pantry early Friday were soon put to work creating cloth food totes out of the T-shirts which hadn’t been used. The cloth bags are needed as the pantry does not plan to use plastic bags effective March 1, as mandated by the state for any business required to collect New York state sales tax.

Busan said the pantry is exempt from this law, however, plans to follow the mandate anyway.

“We feel it’s important that our customers understand their responsibility, as well,” Busan said.

“Plus they have to shop in supermarkets and everyplace else, so they’re going to have to have” their own bags. She noted the plastic bags in current use by the pantry have been donated by grocery stores in the community. The pantry has encouraged recipients to bring their own bags in the past by providing an additional food item to them as an incentive.

Linda Witte, food pantry volunteer and board member, said they learned of the method to create bags from T-shirts which only involves the use of scissors and tying of the slits cut on the bottom edge of the shirt.

“You just cut out the neck and the arms and (cut slits in the bottom) and tie them together,” Witte explained of the no sew T-shirt tote bag method that can be found online.

The bags are durable as one of the volunteers was able to carry 16 cans of food in one of the T-shirt totes without it ripping.

Busan said the pantry would probably accept new or gently-used T-shirts to create more cloth bags.

“I guess we would like to encourage folks to use their own T-shirts and make bags at home,” and donate them to the pantry if they’d like, she added.

Witte said the pantry would also welcome cloth bags from T-shirts made and donated by church, scout or school groups.

Volunteer Kathy Parker said she enjoyed helping out with the new tote bag project as it was an interesting activity.

“It’s just a fun place to work, too,” Parker remarked.

For more information on the project or the food pantry, call 372-4989.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)