The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

September 21, 2012

Volunteers help the homeless 1 bag at a time

By Gwen Jones for the SNAP

Friday, September 21, 2012 — Citizens of Oakboro and surrounding areas are gathering on Wednesdays to put an unsightly item to good use. Each week the group gathers to transform plastic shopping bags into sleeping mats for those who have found themselves without a home.  

With the growing number of bags handed out each minute and the lengthy decomposition rate of those bags coupled with the growing number of homeless individuals around the world, this appears to be an easy resolution for two different problems.  

Even those who have lost their home to disaster such as a hurricane or tornado desire these mats, which can be rolled up and easily carried. The mats provide a warmer and softer alternative to a cold and hard sleeping surface.   

Jewell Whitley read an article in Mature Living Magazine (February 2012) about a project where Concordia Lutheran Church in Jackson, Tenn. gathered weekly to make these mats. When Oakboro Baptist Church discovered that Shirley Morris Bell (Mineral Springs Baptist) had actually crafted a mat, the Oakboro ladies began meeting with her to learn how to produce them. In just two months the group has grown to include Oakboro First Baptist, Red Cross Baptist, St. Matt-hew’s Church, Providence Church of God and New Faith Holiness Church members.

They meet at Los Jacubes Family Mexican Restaurant each week to assemble the mats.

“From the beginning, we wanted this to be a community project, and it has turned out to be just that,” Jewell Whitley said.

“By word of mouth, we’ve let people from the different churches know about it, and we are so pleased with the response. These mats will keep you warm and off the ground.”  

Made entirely from plastic, the mat is water repellant, easily cleaned and dries quickly.

“We’ve formed an assembly line of collecting, cutting, connecting and crocheting bags to produce the mats,” Paula Whitley said.

They use a large crocheting needle (No. 19 or Q size). It takes 20-30 hours and several hundred bags to create one mat. Each bag is folded, cut into strips, looped together to form a ball and crocheted into a 3-foot x 6-foot mat. The completed product resembles the braided style rug often used in dining and living areas. Each rug is unique and multicolored as bag colors vary.

Volunteer Kayla Garrison said her father-in-law is making these mats with a similar group in Fairfield, Ohio, where he lives. When asked where the mats would be distributed, Jewell Whitley advised, “We are going to begin distributing them through the Community Inn in Albemarle. Hopefully other homeless shelters will hear about us and contact us.”  

The group welcomes more of the community to join with them in the mission.  

“Crossing denominational lines for this service project has been wonderful. We’re getting to know and fellowship with so many different people. We always enjoy staying afterward for lunch at Los Jacubes,” Whitley said.  

Anyone is invited to join the growing group of volunteers as they gather in Oakboro at 10 a.m. Wednesdays.