Old potato chip bags are now warming blankets for people experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids thanks to scholars at Museum Middle School.

Art teacher Cloe Hadley and her eighth-grade students are behind the project which sees them convert some 100 empty chip bags into one king-sized blanket after lots of planning and labor (the foil inside the bag turns the eventual blankets into an inexpensive reflective heat source, while the outside of the bags helps the blankets stay waterproof). 

Hadley said she stumbled across the Crisp Packet Project in the United Kingdom (crisp is the British term for a potato chip) and she knew immediately that it was a perfect fit for the Museum School.

Over winter break, she began reaching out to schools in our district, and other surrounding districts, to begin collecting chip bags with the aluminum inside. And as she collected bags, she started prototyping how to join the many to form one, using an iron, ironing board and wax paper.

She recalled those early experiments.

“I found this process to be instant gratification as I watched the prototype grow bigger,” she said.

And she knew what she was feeling would translate to her Museum School scholars.

“I was so excited because I knew that as they started, they too would feel a sense of contribution and reward,” she said. “And beyond that, they would get to do the sort of research and prototyping that is a prime example of the design process at work that is a hallmark of Museum School.”

Still, she said, when she first unveiled the idea, many of her scholars were hesitant.

“They seemed really unsure of the process and the hundreds of chip bags around us,” she recalled with a broad smile. “But as soon as each table was given a role, the scholars got totally engaged, and it was an all-hands-on-deck moment in the classroom. This was beautiful to see how the kids were immediately jumping into action to make a difference for our community.” 

As the project proceeded, Hadley and her scholars connected with Aaron Edwards at Mel Trotter Ministries who came to the school to investigate the blankets and see if they’d be a fit for the folks Mel Trotter serves.

“He was so excited,” Hadley said. “And so, we became official partners.”

Indeed, the blankets were dropped off at the front end of a nasty patch of weather in Grand Rapids, Hadley said, so the timing was perfect, and the blankets were gone within an hour.

She said that scholars were moved by the experience of taking discarded chip bags and turning them into something tangible for people who have so little.

Jakari Vanlente told MLive/The Grand Rapids Press that he often sees homeless people along his route to school. “I see them wearing a hat and coat that doesn’t have any fur in it,” he added. “There are a lot of people who are cold out there, especially since it’s very cold outside. Even though the blanket doesn’t have any fur on it, it traps the heat in so you can feel warm.”

And Angie Cifuentes told MLive reporter Melissa Frick that though the project was a lot of work, she and her fellow scholars felt good about being part of something bigger than themselves.

“Even if I don’t know them, a stranger, just to know that I could be helping someone else makes me really happy,” she said.

Hadley said she already is planning for next January with a goal to partner with schools within GRPS to make 75 blankets.

“I’m extremely proud of my scholars and our school and district,” Hadley said. “We used art for the purpose that I live for. Art is a tool for restoration and a way to bring justice to the areas of injustice in the world around us. The scholars got to see the power of using art for good.”