3:30 P.M. EST May 14, 2010
Youth from Ashbury United Methodist Church crochet bed mats out of plastic bags.
A UMNS photo by Ellen Brown.
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Like many Americans, Ellen Brown used to accumulate more plastic shopping bags than she knew what to do with.
“I would throw bags away, and I would feel guilty about it,” Brown
said. “I’d try to keep them for a while. But once I had a Wal-Mart-bag
full, I’d have to get rid of the rest. I live in an apartment where we
don’t have recycling.”
Then Brown discovered a way that she and the youth group she leads at Asbury United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark., could save thousands of plastic bags from a landfill burial and give them new life.
Now with one crochet hook at a time, the Asbury youth are transforming plastic bags into bed mats for the city’s homeless.
Each mat requires 500 to 700 bags. Within two weeks, the youth group
collected more than 3,000 bags from church members and local stores.
More are coming in.
The youth group of about 20 seventh- through 12th-graders began the
project on April 25 and plan to complete six or seven mats by the end of
July. The youth work on the project each Sunday night during the
half-hour of free time they have at their weekly gathering.
To make the mats, one team of youth straightens out each bag. Another
team cuts off the handles, the bottom seam and next cuts the remaining
square into four horizontal strips. A third team of youth then loops the
strips together to form the plastic yarn — or “plarn,” as the youth
group calls it.
Finally, six of the youth then chain the “plarn” using 10-millimeter
metal crochet hooks to create the cushions of the mat. The completed
mats will each be 2 1/2 feet wide and 6 feet long.
The plastic sleeping mats, which come with a strap, are portable, easily dry off when wet and keep bugs away.
“I never thought you could do something like this with a grocery
bag,” said 15-year-old Caitlyn Hendrickson, one of the youth on crochet
duty. “It’s a lot of fun too. You don’t have to sit there in silence
while you’re working.”
Brown discovered the bed-mat project when she saw a local TV news
feature on the “The Sleeping Mat-ters” ministry at New Life Church, a
nondenominational, multi-campus church based in nearby Conway, Ark.
Dawn Warmbold, a member of New Life, launched the ministry with a
group of women at her church after hearing about a group doing something
similar in Ohio. Warmbold wanted to share the project with more
congregations, so she put together a YouTube video to demonstrate how to
make the bed mats.
Her video proved an immediate hit with the youth of Asbury when Brown showed it.
Susan York, a member of Asbury, likes the project because it helps
youth learn an art she feared was dying out. York’s mother crochets, and
in fact, crocheted a welcome mat out of plastic bags about a dozen
years ago. But York never took up the hobby. Now, her son Austin, 12, is
one of the youth learning to link material into a creation that brings
“I like doing this,” Austin York said. “It’s good to give something to the homeless.”
When the Asbury mats are completed, Brown plans to take the youth to
join other members of the Sleeping Mat-ters ministry in distributing
mats to the homeless. She hopes it will be an eye-opening experience for
“You can’t always build someone a house,” Brown said, “but this is something we can do to improve someone’s quality of life.”
*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.
News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.