No matter how environmentally conscience I try to be I still end up with plastic bags. I hate the thought of putting them in the garbage, which is why I was so excited that my optimist club decided to make sleeping mats out of them. In the past year, the Paragon Optimist Club has made and donated about 25 mats!
The mats are comfortable and create a barrier between the ground and the body, which helps retain body heat while sleeping. These mats are also really low maintenance. If they get wet, they can easily be dried. If they get dirty, they can be hosed off or shaken out. They are also light weight and portable.
This all stared when my friend mentioned to me that she’s making mats for the homeless. She saw a post on Facebook and thought, well I can do that, so she reached out and learned what was all involved. The supply list isn’t complicated: plastic bags, scissor and a crochet hook, however, to make one mat you’ll need 500-700 bags…
During one of our meetings I stated what my friend was doing and asked if everyone would save plastic bags. Not only did folks say they’d save bags, but they loved the idea and wanted to help make mats too! In July 2018 my friend came to a meeting and taught us how to cut the bag into strips, loop the strips together to make plarn (plastic-yarn). From there she showed us how to take the plarn and crochet it into a sleeping mat. This is all very simple, but can be a long process, which is why many do this at home while watching tv.
After a little while we created a few mats and were ready to donate them, and that is when I discovered the Military Veterans Resource Center (MVRC) – Hamilton Resource Center. MVRC recognizes that the transition from military service to civilian life often is difficult. Their goal is to help veterans identify and overcome the barriers that are holding them back from the life they want. Our mats are given to homeless Vets who now have a home so that the Vets have a little cushion under their sleeping bags.
Dan Dunaway, Veterans Services Specialistat the Hamilton Resource Center, shared two occasions where our mats came in handy. The first was a gentleman who had been discharged after serving eight years in the military. After a year, the Vet was homeless and jobless, and thankfully reached out for assistance. From that point, Dan was able to find the Vet a job and an apartment. Since the Vet was homeless, he didn’t have a bed, and Dan was able to provide a mat as part of his bedding. I’d like to think that our mat helps the Vet get a goodnight’s sleep so when he wakes up he’s ready to take on the world.
Dan’s latest incident affected a veteran and his whole family when their home caught on fire. This family lost a lot and they currently are living in a one-bedroom apartment. Dan was able to provide this family of 5 with 5 mats for them to use for bedding. I’m sure sleeping isn’t easy for this family, but I hope our mats gives them some support.
The Paragon Optimist Club continues to make mats. It makes me smile that plastic bags are now being used for a good cause and are not being put in the landfill. Every mat may look different, but they all show that we care. It is an amazing opportunity to provide someone in need something homemade and useful.