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Tuesday, July 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Seniors turn plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless

A group of active seniors at the Vintage Apartments in North Spokane is turning plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats for the homeless.

The bags are cut into loops, which are strung together to create a kind of plastic yarn known as “plarn.”

Then the seniors, skilled at crochet, fashion the yarn into mats about 3 feet wide and up to 6 feet long.

The mats are being given to the homeless, including those who show up at the House of Charity in downtown Spokane for food and warming.

The group of about 20 seniors started making the mats in November.

“It’s a perfect craft for here,” said resident Judy Holland, one of the organizers of the effort.

The volunteers gather in the day-use areas of the apartment complex and visit with one another while fashioning the mats.

Those involved said the work has livened up the day room with conversation and camaraderie.

“It’s people helping people,” said Ima Jean Gordon, one of the residents.

Holland said, “We are all doing it from the heart.”

The idea for making the mats came from Franciscan Sister Kathy Roberg, of Spokane, who learned about religious sisters in Missouri making the mats for the homeless there.

Roberg had knitted a grocery shopping bag from plastic bags some years ago so she knew that the crocheted mats could be useful.

Plus, it is a way to recycle what otherwise would become garbage, group members said.

The mats provide a dry, insulating layer for outdoor sleeping, but are very lightweight for packing around. The pieces are strong and washable.

Roberg said she had one homeless man approach her and ask for one after word spread.

Roberg said she has given away five of the mats so far at the House of Charity.

The group is hoping to send some of the mats to the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center, where homeless vets show up for health care needs.

Residents are collecting their own leftover plastic bags from various stores.

In one foray, Holland received a donation of new plastic bags from a manager at a Yoke’s Fresh Market grocery.

The different colors of the bags make for a lively finished product.

It takes about 150 grocery bags and 30 hours of handwork to complete one mat.

The seniors are accepting donations of bags at the front entrance to the apartment house, 43 E. Weile Ave.

Holland said crocheting with plastic takes some adjustment. The best hook for the work is a size Q, which is the largest size for crocheting.

“It took me a while,” Holland said.

Those not skilled at crochet are working on making the plarn.

“If you don’t know crochet, you can help with other tasks,” Holland said.

She and Roberg are cousins.

They said they are sensitive to the need to serve the homeless because they have another cousin who is on the street.

“It’s horrible to have people sleeping outside,” Holland said.

Nancy Greenwood, one of the seniors on the project, said she likes the fact that she is helping someone else.

“It keeps me busy. I am out of trouble,” she said.

The women in the group joke about being the “bag ladies,” but they are proud of their work.

During the countless hours of production, the conversation can wane.

That’s when the repetitive work offers time for soul-searching.

“You can do a lot of reflecting,” Holland said. “It’s like meditation.”

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