Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students Evan Baker and Jacob Spence show off one of the mats their club has made for homeless people out of old grocery bags. (Photo by Amy Reid)

Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students Evan Baker and Jacob Spence show off one of the mats their club has made for homeless people out of old grocery bags. (Photo by Amy Reid)

Surrey boys spend hundreds of hours making mats for homeless

Grade 5 Surrey boys honoured at Surrey school board meeting for their efforts

Every Monday, a group of sporty Grade 5 boys get together after school at their École Crescent Park Elementary.

Not to play sports, and certainly not to play video games.

These boys, for the past two years, have instead dedicated every Monday to crocheting mats for the homeless – using plastic grocery bags.

Volunteers at Camp Alexandra in nearby Crescent Beach showed them the crochet stitch, and soon “Mat Making Mondays” were born. By their tally, they’ve spent hundreds of hours and diverted a whopping 9,000 grocery bags from the landfill making eight mats, donated to people in need through Sources Newton Resource Centre.

The boys were first featured in Peace Arch News last May, then again in November, when they presented mats to Sources and their gift was described as “amazing.”

This spring, the boys were recognized for their efforts at a Surrey Board of Education meeting.

“Back in Grade 4 we saw a man sitting on the sidewalk with no shirt or jacket, and a sign saying he was homeless,” said Dylan Homenick.

“We felt bad for him and all the other homeless people we started noticing. So we looked for projects to help the homeless but mostly it was groups wanting us to fundraise. It was OK, but we actually wanted to do something.

“Then we saw the story about a lady in Texas who made sleeping mats for the homeless from recycled plastic bags. At our school, (principal David) A’Bear talks a lot about recycling and our environment, so we thought this was perfect.”

Classmate Oliver Botelho said the boys then learned to cut plastic bags into strips, tie them and crochet.

“After 100 hours of crocheting we made one plastic mat that can fit one person,” said Oliver.

Evan Baker said the mats help the homeless in a few ways.

“The homeless people need the mats because first, it keeps them warm and dry,” said Evan. “Second, it keeps them comfortable, instead of lying on rock-hard concrete or dirty wet grass. It also is warm, can help you stay alive in snow. It’s also easy to pack up, you can just roll it up, put it back.”

Evan revealed the group is now expanding their efforts beyond mats, to pillows, cushions, shoes and bracelets.

“Also bags. Yes, bags out of bags,” he said.

Jacob Spence said the mats mean a lot to him.

“I think I am helping the environment and the homeless. I’m helping the environment because these are plastic bags, normally all of these bags would be thrown out into a dumpster or a dump. But we’re taking the plastic bags and cutting them into strips and making them into something useful for the world.”

The boys presented their work to the Surrey school trustees in March.

Board chair Shawn Wilson commended the boys for “truly demonstrating care for others.”

“The concept has now spread to other schools where students have established their own Mat-Making Clubs,” Wilson noted, adding that the board “recognizes the Crescent Park Elementary Mat Makers for exemplary social responsibility through exceptional effort and support of the community.”

Dylan’s mom, Susan Vanin, said she and the other parents have been impressed with the boys’ level of commitment.

“They’ve donated hundreds of hours after school, on weekends, during Pro-D days. For nine-year-old boys to have that degree of compassion and empathy for someone they’ve never met has been extremely heartwarming,” she said.

“They didn’t want to just give money – they wanted to do something to show they care and to try to help. It’s not always easy for kids to feel like they can make a difference but this project enabled them to not only help those in need but also save thousands of plastic bags from the landfill. We’re very grateful to Surrey schools, Alexandra Neighbourhood House and Sources for all of their support.”

 

Amy Reid photo                                 A group of Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students show off some of the mats their club has made out of old grocery bags. The mats will be donated to homeless people.

Amy Reid photo A group of Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students show off some of the mats their club has made out of old grocery bags. The mats will be donated to homeless people.

Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students show off one of the mats their club has made for homeless people out of old grocery bags. (Photo by Amy Reid)

Grade 5 Crescent Park Elementary students show off one of the mats their club has made for homeless people out of old grocery bags. (Photo by Amy Reid)