High School Students Are Transforming Plastic Bags Into 6-Foot Long Sleeping Mats For Homeless

Homelessness and plastic pollution are among the main problems of modern society. Plastic is undoubtedly the number one material that helped all advances in technology and raised our living standard, but over time, it has become a threat to humans, animals, and our environment.

Moreover, even though homelessness is on the rise, it is possible to end it.

There are various proven programs and policy solutions that support people in rebuilding their lives. Yet, these solutions need to be implemented on a scale that would effectively end homelessness for good.

Yet, a high school senior from Lakewood decided to target both issues with the help of her after-school club. Shelby Tillema saw a news report about a group of women named “Bev’s Bag Brigade”.

These women have made hundreds of sleeping mats since 2009 for Volunteers of America, an NGO that helps those in need, the homeless, people getting out of jail, addicts, veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The women crocheted warm mats made of “plarn,” a plastic-type of yarn made from plastic grocery bags.

This gave Shelby an idea to do the same and formed the Lakewood High Plarn Club, where high school students recycle plastic bags into something that can help the less fortunate.

It is estimated that an average American family uses 1,500 bags annually, so this is a better way to use them instead of lying in a landfill for five centuries.

The Plarn Club meets every day after school to create mats.

President and club founder Shelby Tillema says:

“You take recycled plastic grocery bags or just any plastic bags and you cut them into strips, and you tie those strips together and that makes this thing called plarn, plastic bag yarn. “

Those students that are experienced in crocheting then weave them into sleeping mats, that are durable, water-resistant, and soft.

After they finish the mats, they donate them to the Jeffco Action Center that distributes them to homeless people.

Shelby maintains that the club will work even after she graduates, and claims that It’d be awesome if other Jeffco schools imitate this idea. ”

These mat clubs are on the rise.

After Kaitlyn McLean from Salt Lake City learned about plarn and reading about the number of people freezing to death daily in Salt Lake City, she decided to try and help them.

She thought:

“Survival is the most basic need. How do we have people here, where everyone cares, who are still freezing to death?”

McLean has learned to crochet from her mother, so she founded a small, grassroots organization called “Bags to Beds.”

Volunteers have managed to turn hundreds of plastic grocery bags into mats for the homeless since 2017. Depending on the experience level with crochet of the volunteer, it takes from 10 to 40 hours to make one mat. Each mat takes 300 to 500 plastic bags, and bags are collected before a project by volunteers.

Aleatha Leader, a regular volunteer for Bags to Beds, says that crocheting is easy:

 “It’s not something that you have to devote a long time to, you can do a little bit, a few hours, a couple of times a semester.

Honestly, part of it, it’s something I can do. I can’t just give them a house and I can’t make sure that they eat every day, but I can take two hours and I can try to make it so they are a little bit safer, a little bit warmer, a little bit more comfortable.“

As McLean admitted:

 “The most heartwarming response I’ve received was the understanding that you can tell just looking at the mat that someone made it by hand for you. And someone expressing to me that being given this was a sign that somebody out there cared enough to take the time and the energy to make that.”