Congratulations ladies for your dedication to the homeless.  This article was published in the Citrus County Chronicle on April 21, 2017.

Recycling project benefits homeless

 

Lecanto Episcopal church group crocheting sleeping mats

Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Special to the Chronicle

Cathy Collins makes plarn.

Sharon Anderson

For the Chronicle

When life hands us an abundance of something we don’t know what to do with — such as plastic bags often destined for the landfill — creative minds go to work on how to make something new, useful and helpful: like sleeping mats for those enduring the homeless experience.

A group at Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church of Lecanto has been doing just that using “plarn” — a word coined from turning plastic bags into yarn — and crocheting it into mats.

What began around the first of the year as a side job for four or five members of the church’s prayer shawl knitting ministry has blossomed into a production force involving 18 women and five men, said project coordinator Lynn Meyer.

Finished mats are delivered to the Family Resource Center (FRC) of Citrus, a social service organization that’s been based in Hernando for 30 years, which distributes them to the homeless along with tents.

FRC Director Ginger West said she’s worked with many local groups making plarn mats over the years.

“The project serves a dual purpose,” she said. “It keeps the bags out of the environment and provides comfort to the homeless.”

That comfort involves keeping bedding dry and providing insulation against both heat and cold, West said. The process begins with hunting and gathering plastic bags — the kind most stores use these days. But collecting bags is just the beginning, Meyer said. The bags must then be flattened, then folded, then cut into loops which, like yarn, are crocheted into 3- by 6-foot, half-inch-thick mats.

“It’s a time consuming process,” Meyer said, noting about 80 percent of the work involves turning the plastic bags into plarn, which is where the men come in handy. Only then can the work of crocheting begin, which takes comparably little time, she said.

“I’d never crocheted before in my life but I picked it up real easily,” Meyer said. The fact that a large, size Q, crochet needle is used to work with plarn helped she said.

Fellow crocheter and church member Susan Pratt said, “Working with plarn was so satisfying that, when I got back to regular crocheting, the needle seemed so small it was discouraging.”

Pratt said she especially enjoys the teamwork involved. “I had a pattern going but ran out of gray bags so I called a friend and she put some on her front porch for me to pick up,” she said.

“My daughter, who teaches in Brandon, has her Service Learning Club preparing plarn for us,” Pratt said, adding, a local Girl Scout troop will soon learn to plarn to fulfill the requirements for a merit badge.

Pratt said she learned much about crocheting with plarn via instructional videos on YouTube and recommends: http://tinyurl.com/kwlhaah.

So far the church group has delivered five mats to the Family Resource Center and five more are soon to be completed, Meyer said.

Homelessness is increasing, not decreasing in Citrus County, West said, adding it’s hard to keep up with the number of people and families who are finding themselves without shelter for a variety of reasons.

“All kinds of things can happen to people,” she said.

“We used to give out about three tents a month,” West said. “Then it became three a week. In 2016 we gave out 183 tents. Now someone needs a tent about every day,” she said. The FRC accepts cash donations as well as used and new tents and camping supplies to give to the homeless, she said.

“We never have enough mats to give everybody one, so we’re hoping to encourage more people to make them,” West said. “People can start a group or just take up a project on their own making mats.”

Finished mats can be taken to the FRC, at 2435 N. Florida Ave. in Hernando.

Or come to a plarn party, Meyer said, from 2-4 p.m. Fridays at Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church, at 2540 W. Norvell Bryant Highway in Lecanto.