Mount Mercy students refashion sandbags into reusable mementos

Volunteers needed Saturday morning outside NewBo City Market

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CEDAR RAPIDS — As piles of discarded sandbags grow taller throughout Cedar Rapids, one group is refashioning the trash into reusable shopping bags.

Mount Mercy University’s Enactus leadership-development club, which includes about 50 students, is teaming with local partners in the coming months to create and design about 2,500 bags.

That’s about 1 percent of the total number of sandbags piled around Cedar Rapids as the city braced for flooding last month.

A student involved with the project, Derek Siddell, said he and his classmates thought repurposing the bags would be a simple way to recycle.

“What more perfect idea to come by when there’s been a flood?” Siddell, 22, said. “We wanted something sustainable and thought, Why don’t we just turn these bags into reusable bags?”

The group and additional volunteers will meet from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, outside NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St SE, to empty the bags already piled up in the district.

Siddell said the city will be collecting the sand and reusing it.

Nate Klein, a Mount Mercy University business professor and Enactus adviser, said the group only will use the woven polypropylene bags that weren’t touched by floodwaters.

Students also will develop their own business practices for the recycled products, including paying fair wages to workers, managing profit margins and adhering to business regulations.

They will employ the Cedar Rapids-based group African Women Empowered to sew handles on the bags and Red Ball Printing to print student-designed logos on the bags. Designs tentatively include “CR STRONG” and Psalm 29:10 — “The Lord rules over the floodwaters.”

Klein said he hopes the project also teaches the Catholic university students about how business practices can benefit a community.

“It’s about how do you lead a courageous life, and how do you help people who have been impacted through compassion and service,” Klein said. “So you can make money and do good at the same time.”

The bags likely will be for sale starting in December for about $15, Klein said. Profits will benefit Enactus and local not-for-profits, including the NewBo City Market.

Klein and his students said they hope the bags serve as a reminder of the community’s efforts to protect each other as last month’s near 24-foot river crest approached.

“As the floodwaters receded, they thought we could do this to remember,” Klein said. “And to help prevent the city from piling up on the landfill.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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