by Edna Siniff
Members of Christ Lutheran Church, Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota, and friends of its church family are busy a few hours every Wednesday creating mats from plastic bags.
Plastic bags that contained groceries and other items carried home from shopping. Bags that we see blowing against fences, caught in tree branches or bouncing across the road as we travel.
Waste bags that are contaminating our oceans and fields are repurposed to help people with no homes.
Making mats for St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis is popular at Christ Lutheran. Dozens of people participate in collecting, flattening and cutting the plastic into strips. Others loop the pieces together creating the plarn (plastic bag yarn) used by the crocheters. At least a dozen people use large crochet hooks to weave the plarn into large mats. Kids as young as 4 have cheerfully worked alongside the adults.
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These, approximately three-foot by six-foot mats are waterproof, bug resistant, mildew proof, lightweight and easy to carry with the attached straps, also made from plastic bags.
Placed on the ground under blankets or sleeping bags, they protect the sleeper from moisture and excessive cold.
Leigh Delisi heads up the Christ Lutheran project. The idea is not original. In January she saw a post on Facebook about a church in Tennessee making plarn mats. “I thought it was cool and mentioned it at church the following Sunday. The immediate response was: ‘When do we start?’”
A few Sundays later she was in front of the church body holding up a plarn mat and inviting members to join in. The response was overwhelming.
Each matt uses 600 to 1,000 bags. “It’s distressing how many bags are in the waste stream,” said Delisi. “We’re helping the environment and fighting against the social problem of homelessness at the same time.”
Blessing the mats
When the first nine mats were finished “we blessed them and prayed that they would provide a little more comfort to those in need,” said Delisi.
Breanna Jaijairam, street outreach program manager for St. Stephen’s Human Services, said “the people using the plarn mats really like them. Some folks are using them as a bed roll to sleep on top of where ever they land at night. And some folks are using them as a barrier between their tent and sleeping bag as the ground is still relatively cool at night.”
Knowing they are appreciated encourages those who make the mats. And, as the project grows, so does the creativity of the crocheters.
At first, the mats were gray. Now the crocheters have taken the design up a notch with various colors and patterns.
“I tease them,” said Delisi. “Someone’s going to weave a portrait of Martin Luther into a mat.”
Edna Siniff is a member of Christ Lutheran, former publisher/owner of “Country Messenger,” newspaper serving Northern Washington County, Minn., and author of “Living Seminole.”
Photo: Plarn matt showing the different colors of the 695 plastic bags used. Plarners from left, Laura Meyers, Marcia Carlisle, Pastor Hannah, Mary Rudeen, Leigh Delisi, and Jeannie Davis.