One challenge of being homeless – having to sleep outside – will soon be softened for a handful of people in that situation, thanks to the dedicated efforts of a dozen South Surrey boys.
The Grade 5 friends – Eli Chuback, Mason MacGregor, Ben Dobson, Julius Tome, Spencer Brine, Oliver Botelho, Kendall Homenick, Jacob Spence, Trevor Iannacone, Evan Baker, Dylan Homenick and Flynn Cavanagh – all students at Crescent Park Elementary, spent hundreds of hours over the past several months crafting sleeping mats out of plastic bags.
For those who receive them, they will provide a buffer from the wet, cold ground.
Tuesday, the determined students presented six of the mats, including one sized for a pet, to officials at Sources Newton Resource Centre, where the agency’s homelessness and advocacy services are located.
The gesture was “amazing,” said Jeanette Grimmer, a Surrey resident who knows all too well how it feels to have to sleep outside.
Grimmer said she told the boys how she’d lived in a tent in Vancouver for 2½ years, collecting empty bottles to afford food, before finding housing in Surrey’s Chimney Heights neighbourhood last year. While she has a bed now, in Vancouver she would sleep on such things as a yoga-type mat or, if she was lucky, an air mattress.
Receiving a mat like those the boys donated “would’ve helped a little bit, keep us dry,” she told Peace Arch News.
Such gestures, she said, “makes you feel good because people are aware… They don’t know how bad it is, but it’s nice because people want to help.”
The students took a shine to the idea of helping the homeless earlier this year, and began gathering every Monday afternoon in their school library to turn plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats.
After learning how to crochet from volunteers at Alexandra Neighbourhood House, they transformed the bags into ‘plarn’ – yarn made from strips of plastic – and set to the task.
Each mat used 700-800 bags, took about 100 hours to craft, is lightweight and portable, and has a strap for easy transport.
The boys also signed cards that will be delivered with each mat, with sentiments such as “hope you sleep well,” “sweet dreams,” “stay safe” and “I hope this mat makes your life a little bit easier.”
Sources’ Housing First worker Bruce Foster is confident that will be the case.
“Definitely, we do work with people who will benefit from them,” Foster said Wednesday. “They’re going to come in handy.”
In addition to being “a great re-use of a non-recyclable material,” the mat project was uplifting to those who work with the homeless, Foster said.
“I haven’t seen kids that age directly involved in something so beneficial for people who are homeless. It’s inspiring… to see younger people and their awareness for wanting to help.”
Surrey, he noted, has the second-highest population of homeless people in the province, behind Vancouver.
Crescent Park principal David A’Bear described what the boys did – from coming up with an idea to help, to delivering the mats themselves – as “incredible.”
“We’re so proud of these boys. They’ve really taken an idea, brought it to fruition, brought it to reality,” A’Bear said.
“The new curriculum is really about real-life applications and I think in this case you really saw a real-life impact. It’s been an incredible journey for these guys.”