ADRIAN — Two or three years ago, a group at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Adrian decided to take common, used items and turn them into something that could help homeless people.
Now, the organization has grown but needs new partners to help distribute their wares.
Two or three years ago, Sisters of Faith at St. John’s learned about taking plastic grocery bags and turning them into crocheted mats that homeless people could use for sleeping, said Karmen Wilharms, the outreach director at St. John’s. They started making the mats and worked with the Share the Warmth homeless shelter to distribute them. They would have work days at the church or people would work on them at home, and soon others started to help. She said there is a steady group of 20-some women who help, while annual workdays have drawn 30 to 40 people.
Since Share the Warmth opened its new, permanent shelter, it has less of a need for the mats, Wilharms said. The church still had about 15 mats as winter dragged on this year, and the group knew there were homeless people who were unable to get to Share the Warmth or for various reasons couldn’t or wouldn’t stay there. She asked around and The Daily Bread of Lenawee soup kitchen in Adrian agreed to take some and Wilharms dropped three in the Blessings Box at the Lenawee Intermediate School District’s main office on M-52. She said those three mats were gone the next day, so she put some three more there.
She said Insignia Graphics of Adrian made free signs that she can place with the mats to let people know what they are.
“It’s kind of become a community, everybody gather together and help out,” she said.
Anyone who would like to volunteer a location for distributing the mats may call Wilharms at 517-605-1909. She said the church is willing to take the mats to other communities in Lenawee County. The church’s women’s ministry luncheon is Saturday, March 30, and the group will make a decision about how to proceed with the mat project then, she said.
The mats are about half an inch to an inch thick made by crocheting plastic from the grocery bags. Wilharms explained that the used bags are cut into strips that are then tied into “plarn,” or plastic yarn. The plarn is then crocheted into mats. Some of the volunteers only cut up the bags, some do crocheting, some do both. Because crocheting is generally a hobby enjoyed by women, the group’s volunteers have been women.
Making the mats is more difficult that regular crocheting.
“It’s physically more demanding. I made one mat and I had to go see my massage therapist and my chiropractor when I was done,” she said with a laugh. “I got what you call tennis elbow really bad from it because you have to pull so much harder. The plastic bags don’t slide as easily as yarn does through itself.”
So the added strain plus the repetitive motion can lead to tendinitis-like injuries.
“Some of the ladies working on this are a lot older (than me), and I have all the admiration in the world that they can pull this off,” Wilharms said.
Some of the St. John’s members who have volunteered at Share the Warmth have seen people using the mats there to give some extra padding on the cots, Wilharms said.
She said the project has a trifold purpose.
“One, you’re recycling something and keeping it out of the landfill, and, two, you’re able to help your fellow man, and, three, they’re getting the padding and they’re getting a layer of water-proof protection from the wet ground,” Wilharms said. “It’s a good project.”