Warbags: Art with a purpose

by Easton Bowring, Staff writer . Art has always been an inspiration for Cyndi Eldredge. From leatherwork to paintings, she admires the story that lays behind each art piece.
Cyndi’s home is lined with beautiful handcrafted cow hides and artwork on every wall. She loves the beauty it brings into her home. This love and appreciation of art is what led her to form WarBags.
Created in February, 2018, WarBags is focused on creating artwork to raise awareness and fight the war against opioid addiction, one bag at a time.
A WarBag is a handmade leather bag that is sewn by Cyndi and distributed around the area. Twenty percent of all proceeds go to help opioid addicts recover.
However, Cyndi’s story and inspiration started long before WarBags.
“First, you need to know this is hard,” Cyndi said. “But sharing – without shame – is a way to change the stigma of addiction.”
Cyndi has two boys who have struggled with opioid addiction for a long time.
“I’m sure whenever you think of an ‘addict’ you think of someone who was raised in poverty without loving parents, unsupportive family, and no friends, homeless and dirty,” described Cyndi.
“You think they are always looking for their next ‘high’ or you think of junkies and prostitutes, criminals and the insane. This wasn’t like that at all.”
Cyndi’s youngest son was in a severe accident at the age of nine. While playing in a little league baseball game, he was hit face first by a line-drive, jamming his teeth into the roof of his mouth and crushing bones in his face.
After a trip to the emergency room, the nine-year-old left with a prescription for opioids and weekly check-ups to the dentist.
By the time he reached high school and was active in sports, trips to the doctor’s office for sprained ankles, hurt shoulders, or even a cut to the hand resulted in more and more prescriptions.
Even before he graduated high school, his body began to require the opioids to function.
The journey of Cyndi’s older son began after high school. While wrestling in the NCAA, he began experiencing severe injuries that soon stacked up.
After surgeries on an ACL, MCL, both hands, both knees, his back, and eyes, the physicians prescribed various opioids and amphetamines.
The opioid known to be one of the most addictive, Oxycodone, was prescribed to him, with refills time and time again.
Due to their aggressive injuries, both of Cyndi’s sons were opioid addicts by their mid-twenties.
On multiple occasions, Cyndi has been approached with the question: “Your sons have so much potential. Why do they want to do drugs?”
“Well, they never ‘wanted’ to,” Cyndi said. “It’s not like either one of them aspired to become addicts. They never wanted to lose everything in exchange for addiction. Every day they wanted to be free.”
In fact, Cyndi was in denial that there was a problem until one of her sons approached her, asking for her help to overcome his addiction.
Cyndi and her husband Brad began sending their sons to detox at $1,500 per day. Because there was no detox facility in the area, Cyndi was forced to take her children hundreds of miles and trust the individuals who were there to help.
While watching her sons go through withdrawal, Cyndi said she “sat with (them) and prayed to God for the pain in (their) bodies to stop.
“I cried and cried and cried, until there were no more tears. Then I cried without shedding another drop. I researched rehabs, treatments, homeopathy, but most of all, I prayed.”
Four rehabs and five detox facilities later, Cyndi is still fighting her sons’ addictions.
“Are you supposed to walk away and patiently wait for the hell to end?” Cyndi asked. “Pretend it’s not happening? Turn your back from the one you’ve spent your life protecting and caring for? Stop loving them?”
Cyndi couldn’t stop loving the sons she raised just because they were sick.  
“A mother can’t stop being a mom,” she said. “Being a mom of an addict is no different. I thought I could cure it, or at least find someone who could, no matter the cost.”
As a parent of recovering addicts, there is only so much that Cyndi could do. After giving all her money and emotional and mental strength, the only thing she had left was her love.
“The only thing I had was the love I felt and the hope to keep on fighting, help them be strong, and make sure they knew how much they meant to me,” Cyndi said. “Yes, it’s very tough loving an addict.”  
After much research, and through the help of others, Cyndi is coming that much closer to helping her boys fight addiction.
“I am not alone,” Cyndi said. “I’ve realized through The Addict’s Mom Facebook group, that it is definitely past time to keep quiet or do nothing.
I am very fortunate, as both my sons are in recovery. They are succeeding every single day with their fight against this ghastly disease.”
“‘Sharing without shame’ is the The Addict’s Mom motto,” Cyndi stated. “It has given me the courage to use my voice, my talents, to do something positive.”
After witnessing countless addictions destroy lives of individuals and their families, Cyndi knew that she had to do something to bring awareness to addiction. That is when she started WarBags.
Since opening the business in February, Cyndi has been busy sewing leather bags and making earrings and bracelets to raise awareness and funds for opioid addiction.
With WarBags representing her efforts to fight the war on opioid addiction “one bag at a time,” Cyndi is doing just that.
“Once someone is ready to go to rehab, they are usually at rock bottom,” Cyndi said. “They have no money and their family is usually done. Rehab has beds and places for them. We just have no way to get them there.”  
Depending on the product, a minimum of 20 percent of every WarBag item is sent to the Hands of Hope rehab facility, where the funds go toward providing transportation to addiction recovery hopefuls.
“What I was doing for quite a while was sending them to rehab. We are paying for their airline or bus tickets. We have even paid for gas and hotel rooms to get there.”
Cyndi takes leather from hides, cuts and transforms them into beautiful handbags, earrings, and bracelets.
When Cyndi upcycles old leather that is donated, she can sell the bags for much cheaper. She is then able to donate a higher percentage of funds to rehab centers.
“I take the stuff that everyone else throws away and turn it into something beautiful,” Cyndi said.
Cyndi doesn’t use any patterns for her bags, and every bag is different depending on the shape of the leather available. Out of the 500 bags she has created since February, no two are the same.
One of the most impressive results from WarBags is the number of people Cyndi has been able to help. From the sales of those 500 bags, more than 200 people have been sent to rehab.
“Of the 200 people we have sent, none have backed out, quit, or relapsed,” Cyndi said.
“Loving my addicts during addictive using, rehabs, jail, and even recovery has been the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do, but I do it.”
Cyndi is currently working day and night in order to keep up with the demand of her new and exciting product.
“Nothing feels as good to me as knowing I am doing something positive to make a difference,” Cyndi said. “Even if it were only one person, it’s still someone’s child.”
Cyndi has plenty of plans for the future. She hopes to open a rehab center that is funded through the production of WarBag items.
“Both of my sons have told me that I need to share my story, the story of an addict’s mom,” Cyndi said. “They are as proud of me as I am of them.”
To read more about Cyndi’s story and to purchase products, visit the WarBags Facebook page.
You can also contact Cyndi at cyndi@warbags.co or (435) 459-2736.

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