Volunteers crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats for soldiers
July 24, 2015 12:00 AM
Among the crocheting volunteers are, from left, Joanne McDaniel, Jackie Heaney, Rosmary Stein, Dina Buccilli, Georgann Shalayda and Patty Mandell.
A group women gather at the Sewickley Library to crochet strips from plastic newspaper and shopping bags into plastic mats to be used for sleeping by soldiers and people in need.
The mats are sturdy, almost indestructible and sand shakes right out of them.
Rosmary Stein crochets strips of plastic newspaper and shopping bags into a plastic mat.
Georgeann Shalayda (left) and Patty Mandell are among a group women gather at the Sewickley Library to create these plastic mats.
By Jane Miller
Joanne McDaniel was inspired by a newspaper article about a church group in South Carolina that crocheted sleeping mats for the homeless from plastic grocery and newspaper bags.
She shared the idea with knitting club friend Georgeann Shalayda of Baden and they adopted the idea for a project of their own.
In four years, they estimate that 133,000 plastic bags have been recycled into 168 sleeping mats that have gone all over the world.
“This is a simple technique, and just our little efforts can do so much good,” said Mrs. McDaniel, of Leet, who found instructions on YouTube for “sleeping mats from grocery bags.”
The sleeping mats cushion the ground, do not absorb water, do not attract bugs, and can be washed by a hose or dipped in a river. It takes about 600 plastic bags to make one sleeping mat, says Mrs. Shalayda.
Smaller versions have been used as ”sit upons” for children and as mini mats for the military troops stationed in desert camps.
“The mats are nearly indestructible. They use these when the alternative is to stand directly on a dirt floor,” she said.
Next month, the two women will conduct a crocheting with “plarn” workshop at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Hopewell, and instruct on the process of folding bags, cutting and rolling the strips into “plarn” — the equivalent to yarn — balls.
They recently met at the Sewickley Public Library, although many mats are completed at home.
“Once you know how to do a basic chain stitch, it is easy after that,” said Rosemary Stein, of Harmony. She came to a workshop a month ago at the Baden Memorial Library.
Mats have been made by more than a dozen church groups and organizations, including the personal care home at Sewickley’s Masonic Village and packed into care packages by the Yellow Ribbon Girls from Evans City.
“One of our volunteers was 101 years old. She couldn’t see to crochet or cut, but she could flatten and smooth the bags, ” said Mrs. McDaniel. “There are people everywhere that can do this and it can help homebound people feel they have a useful purpose.”
Soldiers use the mats beside their cots to shake the sand off their feet to keep their cots clean, said Jane Colanna of Economy. And, the mats can be folded and stored in knapsacks.
At first it was hard to find enough bags, “But once we tell people what we’re doing, we have plenty,” Mrs. Colanna said.
Recently mats were sent to Panama, as part of the Thomas and Linda McCormack Panama Foundation, where surplus American medical supplies help the impoverished.
“The doctors would be standing on the dirt floor to operate, if they didn’t have these mats,” said Patty Mandell of Cranberry, as she crocheted plastic bags into a mat that looked like a braided rug. Logos and other print on multi-colored bags add texture. She is reminded of growing up in Indiana, where she learned how to crochet in the fifth grade.
Finding the mats in newspapers and magazines pictures adds to their joys of making them, said Mrs. McDaniel, holding a Feb. 1, 2014, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with a front page feature on people who are homeless in Pittsburgh.
Mats have also been sent to Africa, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras and Panama as well as Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Another newspaper article, one about the devastation of plastic bags on the environment, inspires them to keep going.
“One person can only accomplish so much, but with the help of many look at what we can accomplish — for free — from our living rooms,” Mrs. McDaniel said.
To register for a workshop: 412-741-2368.
Jane Miller, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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