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Weaving Plastic Bags into Ministry for the Homeless

Residents Gerri Heineman and Dorothy Inderhees are two of several women who have been involved in an effort to turn recycled plastic bags into sleeping mats for individuals who are homeless or when a person is in need of some dry “flooring” for a makeshift abode. "It seems like a minimal thing, but we are told they can make good use of the mats. They seem to find them helpful," says Inderhees, who has been at Twin Lakes for three years. "And you are keeping these plastic bags out of the landfill for a while."

Making mats out of plastic bags has been a project at church groups and homeless charities in many parts of the country for a number of years. The process involves cutting plastic bags into thin strips that are then knotted together and rolled into a ball. It is sometimes referred to as plastic yarn, or 'plarn.' Then the strips are crocheted into mats. Inderhees says her finished product is a mat nearly 3 feet by 6 feet. "It has a little bit of a spring and thickness to it, rolls up easy and it is not heavy. It has a tie, making it easy to carry."

She acknowledges it can be difficult work, especially for some older people fighting arthritis. "It takes some force with the hands. I found if you just do a little at a time you can keep it up." "It is time consuming," says Heineman, a retired electrician, who has lived at Twin Lakes for a year and a half. "I used to crochet a lot and someone said making these mats is just crocheting, so I thought I can try it. I do it when I can and feel up to it."

It takes a couple hundred bags to make one of the mats, although both women confess they never bothered to actually count the number of recycled bags they use. "I’ve never counted. I probably shouldn’t," Heineman says with a laugh. And of course there is no shortage of the raw material using the ubiquitous plastic bag. "The plastic grocery bags are best, like those used at Kroger. They are rarely soiled so they can be used again," Inderhees says. "They are also lightweight, thin and filmy and easier to work with."

Both ladies say they take artistic pride in their mats and try to creatively mix the colors from different bags. "When you do this for so long you want it to look different," Inderhees says. "We intersperse colored bags as we can. It keeps it interesting as you go on." "I don’t like doing the same thing," says Heineman. "I just did a gray and white one that turned out very nice."

Their mats have been sent to Matthew 25: Ministries and other church groups in the area that serve the homeless. Heineman and Inderhees say they have heard the less fortunate folks appreciate their efforts. And Heineman says her cat, at least, finds the plastic mats comforting. "I know my cat likes them. I made her a small one so she can sleep on it."

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