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A pattern for making a difference

A pattern for making a difference

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As a young person who has lived on the east and west coasts of the country, Rian Heal, of Linwood, has benefited in many ways from both coastline cultures. That blend of experiences has shaped her environmental perception and given her a unique perspective as she enters her junior year at Mainland Regional High School.

The Heals are an active duty Coast Guard family. A few years ago, Rian’s family moved from South Jersey when her father, Joe Heal, a member of the Coast Guard, was reassigned to California. Her mom, Megan, brother Jay and Rian left for the West Coast with a plan to stay connected and hoped to return to the community they all loved on Joe’s next reassignment. That occurred as planned and the Heal family returned to the Jersey Shore in 2018.

One of the first things Rian noticed was the difference in plastic bag usage. The family had seen a huge acceptance and push for a healthier environment when living in Southern California. After moving back to Linwood, they were happy to see the plastic bag fee ordinance in Somers Point and the promotion of reusable bags in Margate. For many years now California has been on the leading edge of promoting and using reusable bags for shopping. Rian pointed out to her mother how odd it seemed that the majority New Jersey had not adopted the same philosophy.

As luck would have it, a friend of Megan’s forwarded a social media post about the “Green Bag Lady.” Megan passed the information to Rian, who read all about the Green Bag Lady initiative, and Rian decided she wanted to be involved as a volunteer.

The Green Bag Lady is an eco-friendly art project started by artist Teresa VanHatten-Granath in 2008. Teresa and her international teams of volunteers called “Bagettes” make bags out of donated fabric and give them away for free in exchange for the promise to refuse paper and plastic when shopping.

Rian was given a sewing machine as a present recently. A neighbor, Barbara “Basia” Hale offered to show Rian how to use the machine. At first Rian enjoyed sewing scrunchies for friends and making clothes, and now puts her newly acquired skills to work making and distributing reusable cloth bags at no cost to the recipient. The Green Bag Lady project sends donated fabric to Rian. Rian cuts out the pattern, sews the bag, attaches a special number tag to the bag and sends it to those requesting one. The bags are tracked, and to date worldwide the organization has distributed over 135,237 bags and counting.

Rian said, “It makes me feel good making the bags and helping people make little changes that added up can make a big difference.” Rian’s philosophy follows a pattern instilled in her at an early age and still encouraged today through immediate family and her grandmother as well as extended family and friends. Rian said her grandmother was using cloth bags for as long as she can remember.

If you would like a free useable cloth bag, Rian is happy to oblige. Keep in mind she is a teenager with a summer job on top of the volunteering. When asked about keeping up with the potential and growing demand, she said she will make sure she responds to every request and let those requesting know when their bag will be completed and delivered. Another way to support the cause is with possible material donations.

If you would like to replace your plastic bags with a reusable cloth bag or have new material that you may want to donate to the project, e-mail Rian Heal at

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