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Youth turn plastic bags into bed mats


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.
Youth from Ashbury United Methodist Church crochet bed mats out of plastic bags.
A UMNS photo by Ellen Brown. View in Photo Gallery

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.

Having fun

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.”

Mat ministry

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 comfort.

“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 the youngsters.

“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 newsdesk@umcom.org.

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