Trude Park, 79, of Tyler, was amazed when she found out the same kinds of plastic bags she’d thrown away for years could be used to create sleeping mats for the homeless.
Ms. Park has been crocheting since she was in the third grade and over the past few years has donated hundreds of blankets to a local hospital.
While she was impressed to hear that a local organization was using plastic bags to create sleeping bags for the homeless, she did not quite understand how the process worked.
“I had a vision of a plastic bag,” she said. “There is nothing else you can do, but put it in the trash.”
Her perception changed, however, after she showed up to a Caring Hearts and Helping Hands workshop in Tyler. Since June, the organization has been turning bags into plarn, plastic yarn, crocheting them and donating them to Faith Community Church’s Jesus Closet ministry so the mats can be distributed to those without homes.
Ms. Park has been volunteering ever since her first visit.
“I was like, 'There is no way this can be done,’” Ms. Park said. “I came here and I was sold. It’s really rewarding.”
Ferna Mills, 65, of Tyler, started Caring Hearts and Helping Hands in Tyler after she came across the idea of repurposing the bags on social media and was immediately drawn to it.
“I started doing this because I saw on Facebook a video that some news agency had taken in Tennessee of these two little grandmas sitting in their recliners and doing this trying to help the homeless,” she said. “I thought, ‘I sit in the evening and crochet. I could do that.’”
Ms. Mills, who is retired, learned the skill after watching a YouTube video. She made three mats before contacting Jesus Closet organizers and hearing the mats could be of great service to those who are homeless in East Texas.
She helped organize a group of volunteers in June, and they created about 40 of the mats last year.
The plastic mats can serve as a temperature and moister barrier from the ground and a deterrent to bedbugs. They also are easier to clean than many other materials and are lightweight, portable and durable. Ms. Mills said they can pair well with a sleeping bag or blanket.
She added that each mat takes about 700 bags and a total of about 80 hours to create. A large amount of the work takes place before the plarn can be crocheted.
Since starting the project, Ms. Mills has gone around the city teaching various volunteers at churches, assisted living facilities, schools and more how to crochet the bags.
She said the feedback from recipients of the mats has encouraged her to try and make the idea spread.
“There was one man, he had a sleeping bag…and he said, ‘Every night I would sleep in my sleeping bag and when I would wake up it would be all wet,’” Ms. Mills said. “He said, 'Since I’ve got my mat, I put my sleeping bag on my mat and now it’s a lot more comfortable,' and he said, ‘I wake up in the morning and my sleeping bag is dry.'”
IF YOU GO: Caring Hearts and Helping Hands meets from 10 a.m. to noon every Wednesday and from 1-3 p.m. every second Saturday of the month at Southern Oaks Baptist Church, 601 E. Amherst Drive, and from 1-3 p.m. every third Saturday of the month at Pollard United Methodist Church, 3030 New Copeland Road. Organizations that would like to learn more about how they can start making the plastic mats can contact Ferna Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 903-590-0582.