Many Green Prophet readers already turn to alternatives when gifting, choosing to give for a loved one to causes with resonant meaning, or buying items that have impact far beyond the artefact itself. This Hanukkah and Christmas, consider a practical present that ticks all eco-humanitarian boxes, especially as you give it away to a stranger.
The EMPWR coat is a water-resistant jacket, which transforms into a sleeping bag. It can also be worn as an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. It’s constructed of durable, water-resistant Cordura fabric from Carhartt, upcycled automotive insulation from General Motors, and other materials provided by generous donors in the greater Detroit, Michigan area, where brutal winter weather makes homelessness especially treacherous.
You don’t so much “own” the coat as “sponsor” it. The company website invites you to donate $100 USD – which covers the cost of labor, materials, and overhead expenses – which “sponsors” a coat giveaway by The Empowerment Plan team. You can also opt to have the jacket sent to you for distribution in your own community.
Founder and CEO Veronika Scott, pictured above and below, started the project when a class at The College for Creative Studies in Detroit challenged her to create a product to fill a real need in her community. Scott decided to tackle homelessness and began spending time at a nearby homeless shelter where the design for the EMPWR coat developed. When an angry homeless woman confronted Scott, stating she didn’t need a coat but a job, the project to give comfort to people sleeping in the rough took a turn towards social development, and so launched The Empowerment Plan.
The nonprofit works to permanently elevate families from the generational cycle of homelessness. It hires single parents from local shelters and provides them with training and full-time employment as seamstresses, enabling them to earn a stable income, find secure housing, and regain their independence.
The project does much more than make coats to give out to the local homeless community. Since 2012, The Empowerment Plan has provided employment to 34 homeless individuals—all of whom have now secured permanent housing for themselves and their families —and distributed over 15,000 coats to those in need across the US, Canada, and a few countries internationally.
Supported by donations from private individuals, large corporations and foundations, the project also partners with local organizations to provide its workers with on-the-clock, supplemental programming including high school equivalency courses, financial literacy classes, and professional development seminars.
Scott believes her model can be replicated in communities beyond Detroit, saying, “We are creating a workforce from a population many overlook. Homelessness should not be a life sentence.” The project is scalable. Last year, Chicago’s hip-hop and R&B radio station “Chance” announced its “Warmest Winter” campaign that aimed to raise $100,000 on Crowdrise to give 1,000 EMPWR coats for homeless people.
“Pathological consumption has become so normalized that we scarcely notice it,” wrote George Monbiot in a 2012 column in the Guardian about the economic and environmental obscenity of Christmastime consumption.
Living in Jordan, a developing country where one-third of its population has refugee status, it’s simple to see that the global culture of pathological consumption – which exploits cheap labor, consumes natural resources, and ultimately provides an accelerating waste stream to our landfills and oceans – needs radical readjustment.
Filmmaker Annie Leonard stated in her 2007 documentary The Story of Stuff that only 1% of the materials flowing through the consumer economy stay in use six months after sale. Monbiot wrote that even those goods we might wish to hold on to are soon condemned to destruction through either planned obsolescence (easy breakage) or perceived obsolescence (going out of style).
So this Christmas and Hanukkah, consider the options. Do someone a favor. Give the gift of your skills. Cook a meal or hand-make something useful. Support businesses that protect the environment. Or buy a functional EMPWR coat to keep a stranger warm. Learn more on their website, link here.