Muriel Blessing prepares a ball of plarn. (Aaron Hinks photo)

South Surrey group crocheting comfort for homeless

Women gather Saturday to craft plastic-bag sleeping mats

To provide not only physical, but mental comfort to those who struggle with homelessness, a group of South Surrey women meet once a week to make a contribution to those in need.

Last year, Linda Bellamy saw an online news story about a group of grandmothers who recycled plastic bags into sleeping mats for people that are homeless.

With that idea, she organized a crochet circle at Whitecliff Retirement Residence, where her mother Linda Vohlidka lives.

The group, which consists of Elly Hendriks, Muriel Blessin, Florence Wall, Bellamy and Vohlidka, meet every Saturday.

Together, and with help from those who have come and gone, they created 27 sleeping mats – using about 620 plastic grocery bags for each one.

The women sit in a circle and work almost as an assembly line, with each participant given a role to play.

“It’s work,” Bellamy said, adding that some people come try it for a week or two, but soon realize that creating each mat is time-consuming.

Blessin, who has crocheted most of her life, said it’s important to handcraft the mats because they not only help homeless people stay off the ground, but it “let’s them know that there are people out there thinking of them.”

“To me, this was just a wonderful thing that I can do,” she told Peace Arch News Saturday, as she prepared the “plarn.”

Plarn is a ball of plastic strips made from cut up plastic bags, similar to a ball of yarn. It’s called plarn, Bellamy said, because it’s plastic.

Some of the women, including Blessin, continue to work on the mats throughout the week. Blessin typically prepares the plarn on Saturday, by cutting and tying together plastic bags, and works on her mat on her free time or when there’s a hockey game on.

Although creating a mat is “very easy,” most of the participants have crocheted or knitted their entire lives.

While designing a mat Saturday, Hendriks recalled when her grandmother taught her how to knit socks in Holland.

Her grandmother would often withhold the secrets of the trade until Hendriks reached a certain skill level, Hendriks added.

“I think I was about six years old when I started. The heel and toe were the hardest, so those were the last secrets that she taught me,” she said, adding that by the time she learned how to knit socks, she was 10.

The plastic bags used to make the sleeping mats are collected through donations to Whitecliff, and they never know what’s going to come through the door.

Among a heap of donations, Bellamy said they found a plastic bag from Woodward’s department store, which closed more than 20 years ago.

“We thought, ‘oh, should we frame it?’” she told PAN.

What did they ultimately end up doing with the plastic bag?

“We cut it up,” she said with a laugh.

Bellamy said the organization is still looking for plastic bag donations, but said they can only make use of bags from the grocery store. Thicker bags, typically from liquor stores, are too hard to work with, she said.

But, they don’t go to waste, she noted.

“We get the donations of the bags from the community. We go through what we can, and cannot use. The ones that we cannot use, there’s another resident who takes them to the hospice and they give them out when people come and buy their things,” Bellamy said.

Residents wishing to donate bags can drop them off at Whitecliff (15501 16 Ave.). Bellamy said if anyone is interested in starting their own sleeping mat crochet circle and is curious about how to get started, they can call her at 604-312-3253.

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A group of friends meet Saturday to make sleeping mats for homeless people. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Elly Hendriks makes a sleeping mat. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Linda Vohlidka has a chat with Elly Hendriks. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Linda Bellamy uses plastic bags to make a sleeping mat. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Finished product. (Aaron Hinks photo)

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