In January, I had the privilege of participating in the Garland County Homeless
Count. Representatives of various community organizations, including our Garland County
Extension Homemakers Council, manned tables with donated clothing, food, and other
useful items. While there I was able to network with the groups supporting this cause
for future collaborations and gain an understanding of what they do to help the homeless
in our county. My short time as a volunteer for the count was unforgettable. For me,
one of the most memorable parts of my time visiting or assisting someone with some
of the items donated was hearing the pride in the voices of those showing off their
new sleeping mats.
For those who have a safe and secure home with a warm bed to sleep in, the true significance
having a barrier between you and the cold, hard ground is hard to comprehend. But
the excitement of those receiving a sleeping mat was evidence that they valued them,
especially since they knew that each mat had been handmade by someone who cared.
Made from plastic shopping bags, these colorful mats make a durable and water-resistant
ground cover that will dry quickly. “Upcycling,” according to UpcycleThat.com is “the
act of taking something no longer in use and giving it a second life and new function.
In doing so, the finished product often becomes more practical, valuable and beautiful
than what it previously was.” Making the mats from used plastic bags, truly gives
new life to what would normally just be thrown away or possibly recycled and brings
comfort and encouragement to vulnerable members of our community. Since the sleeping
mats are made from repurposed plastic bags there is no monetary expense to make a
sleeping mat. The only cost is the time and effort needed to prepare the bags and
crochet them into a mat. This also makes them a great low-cost project for Extension
Some of the mats distributed at the count this year were made by Lakeside EHC member,
Judy Throgmartin. When asked how she got started making the sleeping mats, Judy said
a coworker had talked about making some, so she looked up how to do it and she’s been
making them ever since! This past summer, Judy showed the members of her club how
to make the “plarn” (a long plastic strip made from cut up plastic shopping bags)
and how to wind the plarn into a loose ball in preparation for crocheting. She demonstrated
how to start the mat by crocheting basic stitches using a large hook and how to switch
out plarn made with bags from different stores to make stripes.
Since she started making the sleeping mats in 2019, Judy has made and given away a
total of 23 mats. This project has so captured her heart that she travels to and from
work with a bowl of cut bags to make the plarn while she sits waiting on a very long
traffic light every day. For Judy, making mats for the homeless is a labor of love
that she does not plan on stopping any time soon.
“The way a community cares for its more vulnerable citizens is a marker of collaboration
and its social support systems.” According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Development and the U.S. Census, Arkansas ranked 19 out of 51 in 2019 for homelessness.
In the last few years, the number of homeless has dropped in our state, but what lasting
impact the pandemic will have economically and socially on these numbers remains uncertain.
Arkansas Extension homemakers have a long history of community service and helping
those in need. If you or your club, would like to learn how to make sleeping mats
for the homeless, you can upload our How to Crochet a Plastic Sleeping Mat pdf or
watch our video of Judy demonstrating how to make one.
Alison Crane is a Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with the Garland County Extension