A local group is asking friends to empty that drawer full of plastic bags and hand them over so volunteers can take what might otherwise end up in a landfill and turn it into mats for the homeless.

The Journey to the Streets Ministry is turning those shopping bags into “plarn,” plastic yarn, and crocheting the material into 3-by-6-foot sleeping mats.

“My house looks like a plastic bag convention,” Kathy Van Vlleet said this week during a meetup at the Empowerment House in China Spring to laugh, crochet plastic and eat pizza.

With 500 to 700 plastic bags going into each mat, carry handle included, most of the finished products show a variety of colors.

Phyllis Shows’ street ministry started making the mats over the summer and is seeing engagement in the effort grow as local churches and organizations have signed on to help. Shows said she has been taking food, water and hygiene products to people living on the streets in Greater Waco for about three years. A new friend of hers, Ginny Kroll, started discussing the idea of making the mats after seeing posts online about others across the nation doing it.

“We do have a pretty good homeless population, whether people want to admit it or not,” Shows said.

Learning finer points

Shows said she is still learning the finer points of making the mats, including turning the corners.

“If I can do it, anybody can do it,” she said. “We get excited when we get different color bags. We’ve got some creative people who have done some really creative stuff.”

Kroll said there are a lot of benefits to the mats.

“One good thing about them is they don’t mold. They are easy to wash off and dry, and they are actually really warm,” she said.

Van Vlleet, who has been crocheting 50 years, said the trick with working with the plastic bags is not to crocket too tightly. Each bag has to be looked over to ensure it is clean and doesn’t have any holes before being turned into yarn, she said.

Many working at the Empowerment House this week agreed making the ball of “plarn” takes the most time.

“Not everybody are crocheters,” Kroll said. “Some people just make plarn. When we find somebody fast who makes it, everybody tries to steal that person, and then I lose my plarn person.”

Lake Shore United Methodist Church in Waco is accepting donations of clean plastic bags.

Church member Marie Pitts said it is best if a group or neighborhood collects a decent lot of bags before dropping by the church.

Caring for homeless

Marsha Albee, of China Spring, recently passed out plastic bag mats, food and water with Journey to the Streets. She has known Shows a long time and has always heard her speak about caring for the homeless, Albee said.

“If I had not seen it myself I wouldn’t have believed it,” she said. “I guess what I was amazed most about is, is I thought they were choosing that, and that’s not really the way it is. A lot of the homeless are veterans, a lot of them have mental instabilities, and some can’t mentally mange their own money.”

For more information about getting involved with the project, go to copartnersforchrist.com or find “Journey to the Streets Crochet Club” on Facebook.

Shows said she hopes the group is making some difference in the lives of the less fortunate.

“We share God’s love with them,” Shows said. “It’s sharing God’s love. That’s what we started it for.”

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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