Carlton group crochets, donates plastic bag mats to homeless shelter

Bethesda Evangelical Church gives creations to CHUM

Every Tuesday from 9 to 11 a.m. a group of women meet at the Bethesda Evangelical Church in Carlton to make sleeping mats that they donate to CHUM, the downtown homeless shelter in Duluth. Andee Erickson / Pine Journal

Every Tuesday morning, a group of women meet at Bethesda Evangelical Church in Carlton to crochet recycled plastic bags into sleeping mats to donate to a CHUM, a homeless shelter in downtown Duluth.

All around the country, groups exist that turn recycled plastic bags into sleeping mats. Maureen Singleton of Barnum first learned how to do it with a group in Florida, where she lives during the winter. She brought the idea back north with her and now a group of about 10 Carlton County women have made more than 30 mats in the past year.

While the group would like to donate mats to more places, Singleton said, CHUM is their top priority because the shelter will always have a need.

"They use them two ways," Singleton said. "If somebody comes in and has nothing they will give them a mat ... In the winter time, when they're housing people in the lower level, if they don't have enough cots, they use the mats on the floor for the people that are there staying warm."


It takes about 700 plastic bags to make a sleeping mat, or less to make something smaller like a rug as pictured in the background. Photo courtesy of Mary Sarrela

Making the sleeping mats is a multi-stepped process. Linda Newlon of Cloquet said they can always use more help from the community, whether they're sorting, folding or cutting bags. After those steps, strips of plastic bags are tied into "plarn," or a plastic yarn ball, before the mats can be crocheted.

"One step really isn't more important than the other because you need all those things to get to your finished project," Newlon said. "Your skill level doesn't have to be way up there. It's basically more that you're willing to use your time to do it."

I like the community aspect of how many hands have touched something to make a mat.

The group hopes to get more community members involved is through service groups or high school leadership groups.

Stephanie Lee, a restorative justice coordinator with Carlton County, joined the groups' gathering Tuesday, Sept. 24, for the first time and sorted bags while learning more about the operation. She said participating in the crocheting project could be a good opportunity to the program participants who have difficulty finding transportation, since participating in mat making can be done from home.

"It's a project they can be involved with as a family," Lee said. "I like the community aspect of how many hands have touched something to make a mat. That builds a sense of community for people who might feel isolated."

The group will also never have too many bags. They will take any recycled plastic bag as long as it's clean, and that includes plastic bags that contain delivered newspapers. The church as well as all Northwoods Credit Union locations are accepting plastic bag donations that will get delivered to the crochet group.

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