PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — While shoppers were spending Black Friday at the mall, some people in Rhode Island were taking a break from commerce to give away a coat or get one for free.
It’s the state’s twist on Buy Nothing Day, a two-decade-old statement against consumerism that started in Vancouver and is now marked on the day after Thanksgiving in some places in the U.S.
Greg Gerritt, an environmental activist from Providence, liked the idea of Buy Nothing Day but wanted to do something that gave back to the community, so he came up with the idea of having people donate a coat or get one for free.
The state’s Buy Nothing Day coat exchange is now marking its 17th year and has inspired similar events in Kentucky and Utah, Gerritt said.
This year, 15 sites were set up around Rhode Island for people to give or take a coat, including in Newport, Pawtucket and other cities. The exchange on the lawn of the Statehouse went through a few thousand coats last year.
Gerritt picked the site intentionally because it sits in the shadow of the Providence Place mall. He hopes the location will highlight the negative effects of consumerism on society.
“Consumerism has such a horrible effect on America. It’s an ecological disaster. It’s a social disaster,” he said, adding, “Workers in the mall don’t make a lot of money.”
The coats come from places including coat drives at churches, state agencies and people who drive up and drop off bags as the event occurs.
A group from LaSalle Academy brought seven carloads of coats to the site, and two teachers and several students joined dozens of other volunteers in putting them on hangers and placing them on racks for people to peruse. Some of the coats still had tags on them and had never been worn, the teachers said, prompting them to think about how people spend their money.
“We all have stuff like that in our closets,” religion teacher Patricia Ducharme said.
Maureen Keane, 49, of Providence, who is currently unemployed, was hunting through the racks in search of gifts for friends. She had picked out a leather jacket, long leather coat, camel-colored overcoat and blue rain jacket.
“I can’t afford to be buying Christmas gifts,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program.”
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