Used Shopping Bags Help the Homeless

By Carol Best
June 4, 2014
homeless mat2

It’s a great way to use plastic grocery bags and save them from a landfill. But more importantly, those bags can become a comforting mat to cushion the homeless from the hard cement. They are called ground mats and they are crocheted from discarded plastic shopping bags.

MNU HR Director, Nancy Merimee learned about the idea from Susan Colt in MNU’s Cashier’s Office. Susan’s church friends make the mats for Uplift.org, a non-profit in Kansas City, Mo., that assists the homeless.

Merimee and her Business Office coworkers decided to pair the idea with employees who were already part of MNU’s Prayer Shawl ministry, a group of employees who meet twice a month to crochet shawls that are given to individuals with prayer needs. The group was excited to help. Emails promoting a special community service day went out and employees were asked to bring their unwanted shopping bags to work. Any employee was encouraged to use one of his or her two days of community service leave to work on the mats.

Merimee explained that the bags have to be cut width-wise making strips. The strips are then tied together to make “yarn.” A large gauge crochet hook is used to crochet a mat with the plastic. The mats are soft and provide cushioning as well as being more weather proof than fabric.

homeless matMNU HR Director Nancy Merimee holds a ground mat that will be donated to Uplift.org.

“Twelve employees worked on making the bags,” Merimee said.  “Three bags are nearly done. It takes about 250 bags to make one mat.”

MNU employees are so enthused about the project that they have decided to incorporate ongoing mat making into the prayer shawl ministry. Anyone can join the group that meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m., in the Gilmore Room in Bell Cultural Events Center. Donations of unwanted, clean shopping bags are helpful. The bags can be dropped off in a recycling container in the Lunn Building work room. Individuals can also make the mats at home or work on cutting and tying the strips together if they don’t crochet. The group is happy to teach anyone the simple skills needed to make the mats.

We were all grateful for the opportunity to use discarded and annoying plastic bags to help people that are sometimes forgotten and overlooked,” Merimee said. “The idea to incorporate creating the mats with the Prayer Shawl Ministry was born during our service day. We want to keep this worthwhile and rewarding project going.”

One more thing is important to note. Each person working on a mat is also praying for its recipient. Who knows who will get the mats that are made? God knows.