Words by Jenny Lynn Davis | Images by Justin Hunter
Once a week, a group of ladies gathers in the fellowship hall at Northside Church of the Nazarene off Highway 5 in Jasper with a unique purpose – turning plastic shopping bags into comfortable sleeping mats for the homeless.
These plastic bags, usually destined to become trash can liners or haphazardly bundled together in larger bags, find a more meaningful and impactful use through this inspiring ministry.
Melinda Colvin, the group’s leader, discovered the process for making these sleeping mats five years ago when she came across an online video. Inspired by the idea, she enlisted her husband’s help to construct a loom similar to the one she saw in the video. From there, she began creating these mats to distribute to homeless veterans.
One day, the topic came up in a conversation at church, and over the last two years, Melinda’s at-home project evolved into a full-blown, multi-person operation, where the mats and pillows they create are distributed not only to veterans, but to any homeless persons within local communities.
“Veterans are still a big part of our distribution, we recently delivered 53 mats and pillows to the VA Hospital for distribution, but we have other organizations that do homeless outreach that have partnered with us to distribute,” says Melinda.
The process of creating the mats and pillows is well-organized and seamless. The group starts by collecting donated bags, which are then sorted by color. Specific patterns call for certain bag colors, such as yellow Dollar General bags paired with gray Walmart bags. Each person in the group takes on a designated task. One person flattens and smooths the bags, while another cuts off the bags’ bottoms and handles. The remaining material is then cut into 6.5-inch pieces, which the next member transforms into “plarn” (plastic yarn). Skilled “loomers” then weave the plarn into mats, measuring approximately 3 feet wide and 6 feet long. To complement the mats, matching pillows are crafted using cut-off bottoms and handles as stuffing. The final touch is adding a strap, also made of plastic bags, ensuring easy carrying of the mat and pillow set.
“We waste nothing!” Melinda smiles. “Every piece of every bag is used to make these mats and pillows. They’re cushy but solid, they’re water resistant, plastic helps keep people off of damp ground, and it also holds in body heat. They are also easily rinsed and laid out to dry.”
Brenda Brown, responsible for creating the “plarn,” expresses the group’s commitment to the process: “This isn’t a job; this is a commandment. We are loving our neighbors, whoever they may be, as the Lord has instructed us to do.” WL
Those interested in joining the cause by learning how to create mats and pillows, or contributing by donating bags can get in touch with Melinda Colvin at 205-913-1191.