- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

RAINBOW CITY, Ala. (AP) - Each Wednesday night, a group of women at Harvestfield Church in Rainbow City gather around a table, cutting plastic bags and winding strips of plastic material around crochet hooks, having fun and sharing fellowship all the time.

But there’s a finer kind of sharing going on here: the cutters and crocheters are recycling old plastic bags - the kind grocery stores and discount stores put your purchases in - into mats that can be used by homeless people to soften their resting places when they have nowhere to sleep.

Cathy Kruse found the project online and brought it to her friends at Harvestfield Church. Since August, the women have been working together to make mats and get them to people who encounter homeless people who can use them.

It’s not an idea that’s unique to Etowah County.

The First Baptist Church of New Orleans sometimes offers classes in making “CareMats,” and when the classes are not offered, the church still welcomes the donation of mats for its homeless ministries.

Churches and other organizations making mats for homeless people have made news in many areas, many of them urban settings.

It might be harder for people to believe there is a real need for such articles in a city the size of Gadsden.

But Kruse and the other volunteers have found there is.

They’ve given mats to the Gadsden Police Department, the Gadsden Public Library and to the Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency so they can make the mats available to people they contact who may need them.

Gadsden Police Department Sgt. John Hallman said Gadsden has places for homeless people to go - to the Salvation Army or for women, the Love Center.

Still, there may be times when there’s no room at those shelters, he said, or when people are not willing to go to a shelter, and the mats could be very helpful to them.

“A good many of the homeless people we see are transient,” Hallman said.

They are not likely to be staying in Gadsden, he said, and the mats made by the church group, with handles or straps for easy carrying, work well for them.

The plastic mats offer some protection from damp or cold surfaces and cushion hard ones for people who may be trying to rest or sleep in makeshift surroundings.

Dianne Davis was working on her fourth mat on a recent Wednesday night. Angie Reaves and Ruth Headrick are working on their first mats.

Some of the women in the group - usually eight to 10 come together to make mats each week - have time to work on mats during the week.

“We have one lady who makes one a week,” Kruse said.

For others, it takes weeks to make one, because of other demands on their time.

Christiane Michel and some of the other women don’t consider themselves crocheters. They cut plastic bags, clipping off the handles and the seam at the bottom of the bags, then cutting them into a circle of plastic. The strips are linked and knotted together into a long strand of plastic yarn - plarn - that is wound into a ball for the crocheters to use.

Cutting is no small task. It takes about 700 plastic bags to make one mat.

Headrick said a group of sixth-grade students at Rainbow Middle School, led by Cindy Swann, make plarn balls for the women. Kruse said an assistant principal at Ashville Middle School has students cut bags for her and she makes them into plarn balls for them, too. A couple of women at Regency Pointe also craft mats for the project.

And many people at the church and in the community collect bags for them.

“We have a closet full of bags,” Kruse said.

Crocheting with plastic is no harder than using yarn, Headrick said. The key is using a larger hook - the largest one Wal-Mart had, she explained. Her hook is a size Q, or 15.75 mm; most of the crocheters used similarly sized hooks.

“Everyone’s mats are different,” Headrick said, pointing out that her crochet work is more tightly woven than Reaves’.

The women have been involved in other ministries geared toward helping the homeless. Last year they tied hats, scarves and gloves on sign posts downtown, leaving them so people who might be out in the cold could take them if they needed them.

Speaking on one of those 70-degree days, Kruse said they plan to do that again, and to put jackets out on benches, “if it ever gets cold.”

___

Information from: The Gadsden Times, https://www.gadsdentimes.com


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