Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Crocheted Grocery Bags Connect Lives

Behold the lowly and unsung plastic grocery bag.

Do you have a drawer that looks likes this?  We do.
Once you've removed the groceries,  it's either headed to the recycling bin (if it's lucky) or maybe (and more likely in most cases), it's probably headed for the trash.  

Watch what we can do with this plastic bag!

But what if we weren't done with it?  What if this plastic bag could be put to a larger purpose?

Let's see if I have this right...

Sure, we're talking "upcycling" it. But what if you could make something not only special from the bag itself, but create a connection between people of different ages, backgrounds and completely different economic situations?

Keep those bags coming.
Well, we may have seen one of the most perfect uses for these unwanted bags right here in a classroom at Mance Park Middle School.  And it started with a simple connection of people.

Mrs. Moore says, "Bring us your plastic bags!"
Mrs. Jan Moore is a long time teacher here at Huntsville ISD and a long time member of University Heights Baptist Church.  Mrs. Moore talked to Mrs. Sullivan, a lady at the church that discovered you could create light, washable and durable sleeping mats out of these plastic bags by crocheting lots and lots and lots of bags together (500 to be exact for a 6 ft. by 3 ft. mat).

Mrs. Sullivan is hard at work and in the zone- look at that mat!
So far, they have made over 200 of these.
Two years ago, Mrs. Sullivan had read in Mature Living magazine about ladies in Tennessee who had made them.   These sleeping mats are perfect for homeless people to use, because they are not only light, durable and washable,  but they provide a small layer of comfort from the ground both in the summer and winter.  Mrs. Sullivan felt called to do this.

Mrs. Moore demonstrates.

Mrs. Moore loved the idea and wanted to help.  Mrs. Sullivan provided the person power and the expertise, but she needed a source for more bags and she needed help preparing the bags.  For both problems, Mrs. Moore turned to her Teen Leadership classes.  Mrs. Moore is certified through the national Teen Leadership program and brings this curriculum to her classes.

Mance Park Seventh Grader Roberto with a finished mat & carrying strap.

She began having the classes help solicit bag donations, and she invited crochet extraordinaire Mrs. Sullivan to come speak to her classes and demonstrate the technique to give them an understanding of the process.  To help facilitate and speed up the crocheting,  the bags needed to be straightened, flattened and stacked a certain way.  It takes an average of eight hours to make a mat, but if the bags are already flattened, that drops down to five hours.

Mrs. Sullivan holds a work in progress and shows us the final results (on table).
"Many hands make light work," so the students don't have to spend a lot of time working on this,  especially because Coach Shelby Dirk who also teaches Teen Leadership courses, has jumped in and her classes help out.

Coach Dirk caught in the act!

By the way, Mrs. Moore also appreciates the opportunity for these students to demonstrate the service component of their class on leadership.  She believes that any serious discussion of leadership always contains the importance of a commitment to service in leaders.

Once these bags are ready, Mrs. Moore brings them back to the ladies.  And once the ladies are finished crocheting the mats- then what?

This trailer (and truck) are filled each month, and part of the caravan.

That's where Mrs. Moore connects with TRUTH, the college ministry of University Heights Baptist Church lead by Bert Lyle.  One Friday night a month these Sam Houston State University students caravan to downtown Houston.

At the end of the night, the volunteers gather for reflection.
The group sets up shop in front of "The Big White Cross" in front of St. John's Medical Center, and serve food and drinks, as well as distribute clothes and- you guessed it!- these mats!

They meet right here at the base of the cross.

This marks the culmination of all the folks who are connected by these 500 bags

When you think about it, this is a really remarkable partnership involving all sorts of people.  It's a chain of events that culminates in providing a sleeping mat for a homeless person.  And it all hinges on the lowly and humble plastic bag.

The homeless problem is a massive, complicated and seemingly intractable problem, and no one action can provide a solution.  However, until the problem is solved once and for all, partnerships like this help alleviate some suffering and connect us to those among us that struggle for basic human needs.

Evening comes.
Maybe you will remember this story next time you are in Houston and you see this cross?


  1. Matthew, this is one of your best blogs. Such a heart warming story.

    1. Thanks Shelley! Isn't this an amazing story? I am so glad I was able to share it- these students are a part of something important and powerful.

  2. Do they need more bag donations? Where would someone donate to this program? This is a great story!