For Cole Stephenson, wanting to help others wasn’t as easy as it sounded. As a teenager, he had a tough time finding a way to get hands-on experience volunteering. So he decided to create his own opportunity, after observing human behavior where he works, the Village Market.

Stephenson has produced a navy blue reusable shopping bag emblazoned with a very Wilton-friendly logo, both to encourage local shoppers to cut down on single use plastic and paper bags, and also help Wilton-based non-profits. He named the venture “Wise Wilton.”

“When you bring reusable bags, you’re being wise. and it sounds good together–Wilton and Wise–with the two ‘Ws’,” he explains, noting that he has incorporated the iconic ‘W’ that is so prominent in the Wilton Warrior logo, making it even more likely to be something Wilton residents will immediately adopt.

Stephenson has become very attuned to just why switching from single use plastic bags to reusable, environmentally friendly bags is important.

“I’ve been working at Village Market for over a year now, and working there, you really get to see how many plastic bags are used. We encourage people to bring reusable bags but I’d say probably less than 10% of the people do use them. So we do go through a lot of plastic bags. Just working there shows me how much plastic just one town can use,” Stephenson says.

Stephenson has created a webpage, WiseWilton.org, where not only does he offer a way for supporters to order bags, he also provides important educational information about just how harmful plastic bags can be to the environment. Among some of the important statistics he passes along are facts, including:  “100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags annually” and “The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year.”

The bags are $5 apiece, and all proceeds from the sale of the bags will benefit four distinctly Wilton organizations–the Wilton Food Pantry, Animals in Distress, Ambler Farm, and the Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation. On his website, Stephenson says he has ties to each of the organizations:  “Wilton Food Pantry–I work at the Village Market, a big supporter of the Wilton Food Pantry, and therefore I understand the need to donate to this great organization in our town;
Animals In Distress–I have had cats as pets for my whole life. They are a constant source of comfort and entertainment. It takes a lot to care for and feed one cat. Donating to an organization that ensures the well being of the cats and the search for their new home is important to me; Ambler Farm–When I was little I used to go to camp at Ambler Farm and I have great memories of my time there. Kevin Meehan and all of the volunteers work hard to make it a very special place in our town; Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation (WARF)–I have played sports in Wilton for as long as I can remember. I grew up playing football, baseball, and lacrosse in the youth programs and still play lacrosse for the high school varsity team. I want to give back to Wilton Athletics because playing sports in Wilton has helped shape who I am today.”

The rising senior at Wilton High School is interested in studying business in college, and creating Wise Wilton has given Stephenson a glimpse of what it takes to get a new enterprise off the ground. “It’s shown me what it’s like to run a business, and how much work you have to put in, and all the components have to come through, even for setting up a small non-profit like this,” he says.

Stephenson is scheduling several dates to sell the bags outside Village Market, and will post available times on his website. He’ll also be making a guest appearance at GOOD Morning Wilton‘s booth at the Sidewalk Sale and Street Fair this Saturday, July 20, in Wilton Center from 10 a.m.-4 p.m..

If he sells all of the bags that he has produced as of now, Stephenson figures he’ll be able to donate $400 to each of the four recipient charities, an ambitious goal. Given what he’s done to get this far, we think he’s got it in the bag.