Kent volunteer group donates $22,400 to programs in Portage County


Mary Ann Kasper (left) discussing recycled fabrics and Frank Kohout (right) working on a project.

Taylor Haydu , Reporter

The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent has donated their proceeds to charities in Portage County for nine years to serve those who are at risk.

The local volunteer organization donated $22,400 to food insecurity programs in 2021.

“We take landfill-destined textiles and we turn them into beautiful things like meditation pillows, yoga mat bags, household things, costumes for kids, baby things. All of it.” said Mary Ann Kasper, the group’s founder, “A hundred percent of proceeds goes to food insecurity programs in the area.”

Last year they donated to Kent Social Services, Raven Packs in Ravenna and the Rural Relief Mobile Food Pantry in Portage County.

Food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level. Mary Ann Kasper had the idea for the group while volunteering at Haymaker Farmers’ Market after she retired from Kent City School District in 2010.

“Many of us have worked in the community in one way or another with people who have had food insecurity whether we were teachers, social workers, etc,” Kasper said. “In Kent when I retired in 2010, around that time over 50% of the children were on free and reduced lunch and breakfast, which was an indicator of need.”

The food insecurity rate in Portage County was 13.5 percent of the total population which is 21,910 individuals, according to Feeding America in 2020. The child food insecurity rate in 2020 was 16.7 percent which is 5,120 children.

“There was a grant at the time for people who were on food assistance to get $10 a month for produce,”  Kasper said. “The money would run out the first week, so some people wouldn’t get their food assistance until later on in the month or they just didn’t get it. To turn people away because there wasn’t enough funds to just get $10 was really hard.”

A few of the many recycled fabrics The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent use for their products. (Taylor Haydu)

Kasper then had the idea to create yoga mat bags in 2012 because yoga studios were becoming a trend. Suddenly, they started to sell quickly. The business officially started in 2013 when Kasper bought a $10 sewing machine from the thrift store.

Hunger was trending up even before COVID-19, but the pandemic is estimated to have dramatically increased the number of people facing acute food insecurity in 2021 and 2022, according to the World Bank.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen with COVID in 2022, but last year we donated very close to $23,000 to the community,” Kasper said. “We are hoping to donate about that much in 2022.”

Individuals can contact The Socially Responsible Sweatshop of Kent for volunteer opportunities via their email at [email protected]. They are located at Christ Episcopal Church, 118 S. Mantua St.

Taylor Haydu is a Reporter. Contact her at [email protected].