“Bag Ladies” Providing Comfort

Written By Kelly Brest van Kempen, chair of the Mission and Social Justice Committee at Evanston Northminster Presbyterian Church

Irene Borgerson, Kathryn Stirling, and Dorothy Ebbens display their mats. Photo by Mary De Jong, used with permission of the Evanston RoundTable

A group of women at Presbyterian Homes and Evanston Northminster call themselves the “Bag Ladies” – and with very good reason! Led by Irene Borgerson, the Bag Ladies crochet sleeping mats from plastic grocery bags and distribute them to local homeless shelters.

Each mat is about 4’ x 6’ and takes 40 hours to make. The women first make “plarn” (plastic yarn) by cutting plastic grocery bags into 1-inch strips and looping them together into a long string. Between 500 and 700 bags are needed for one mat. Each woman then works with a large crochet hook and makes the looped “plarn” into a mat, often adding ties and a carrying strap as well.

From an academic point of view, the mats have several advantages: they are an excellent re-use of plastic
grocery bags and are much easier to keep clean than a cloth mat or a blanket roll. From a social justice point of view, however, the mats are but a temporary solution to a serious problem, and for a few are the only beds they will ever know.

If your church is interested in starting such a project, contact Evanston Northminster. Instructions for making the mats are available online. Just search for “plarn.”

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