Friday, June 14, 2024

Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Swag Bags for Good

A number of years ago, I published two blogs on event marketing and sustainability (part one and part two). Here we are, post-COVID, our industry is coming back and we are once again talking about the same idea - thinking green and saving some green.


CSROrganizations are looking for ways to demonstrate they’re socially and environmentally responsible. A successful trade show program can “reuse and recycle”, so I’m going to make a suggestion and provide an opportunity.


For a number of years, I have volunteered at our local food pantry. Having access to basic staples as well as fresh and healthy choices is important in every community around the country. The need has never been greater, and food insecurity affects almost all walks of life.


Food pantryOur area supports the Elmhurst-Yorkfield Food Pantry. EYFP is celebrating 40 years this September. They serve nine communities and close to 1,000 families a month in the western suburbs of Chicago. I’m not asking for contributions of food or money, although you are free to learn more about them by visiting the EYFP website.


I am simply asking for your bags.


What many food pantries desperately need is something you probably have a lot of and are not using - your bags. Yes, your swag bags handed out at shows, filled with literature, magazines, assorted tchotchkes and premiums.


Bags are typically ordered by the thousands and in many cases, extras are thrown out at the end of a trade show season, when branding or promotions become dated.


Food pantry distributionFood pantries always need bags for filling orders. The expense of buying bags uses monetary contributions that could otherwise be used to purchase food and personal care items.


Our volunteer coordinator at EYFP put out a call for bags and it gave me an idea. Plastic grocery store bags are typically thin and cannot hold much weight. A typical plastic bag can only hold a couple of cans or boxes before falling apart. Swag bags and drawstring backpacks are perfect for what is needed at the pantry. Based on our experience, these can hold so much more and can be used over and over again. 


Swag bagsSo I figured, why not appeal to our industry to donate those unused bags and keep them out of the landfill. 


Several months ago, one of our clients sent back close to 500 bags at the end of their show. As they were no longer needed, our client advised us to just toss the bags out. I asked, with their permission since it was their logo and branding, if I could donate them for reuse at the food pantry. To our pleasant surprise, their response was that they never thought about donating these items, and yes, we had their permission!


Drawstring bagAs I mentioned, this may not be possible for every company or organization. Many have limitations on what ultimately can be done with branded material of any kind, and we are very respectful of those restrictions. 


So here is the call to action: if you have any “retired” swag bags or drawstring backpacks that are headed for the dumpster and you're looking to repurpose, consider contacting your local food pantry or PADS site to see if they can be put to good use. To find out what pantries serve your area, visit or search “food pantries near me”.


Hand sanitizerHere are some other items to consider donating rather than tossing, if your pantry will accept them:


-Hand sanitizers and soaps

-Sanitizing wipes

-Pads of paper

-First aid kits

-Toothbrushes and toothpaste


If you would rather send your items to Prairie, please contact me at and let me know what items you have and the quantity. All I would ask is that you deliver to us and we’ll take care of getting the items to our local pantry.


Thanks for reading this. It really is time to rethink what we are putting in the landfill. Wouldn’t it be nice to put those retired swag bags to good use?


Steve Moskal









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Steve Moskal
Steve Moskal

Steve Moskal

Other posts by Steve Moskal
Contact author Full biography

Full biography

Steve’s journey in the trade show and event world started in 1983 with one of the original Nomadic Display sales organizations in North America. In 1994, he co-founded Prairie Display/Chicago.

Steve was an Allied Board Member of TSEA (Trade Show Exhibitors Association) from 2007 to 2011 and recipient of the TSEA President’s Award in 2009. He also served as Financial Chair of the Midwest Exhibit and Event Professionals (formerly the Chicago chapter of TSEA) and as a commissioner with the Elmhurst Economic Development Commission from 2011 to 2016. Currently he is Vice President of Education for the Addison/Elmhurst, IL Toastmasters Club.

When not working with customers and co-workers at Prairie, you can find him trying to spend more time biking and pursuing other creative endeavors. Steve lives in Oak Brook, IL with his beautiful and equally understanding wife of 26 years, Shelley.

Steve is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a B.A. in Journalism and a Fine Arts minor.


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