Thousands of milk bags pour in to help Quebec City woman make mats for homeless

Sandra Lauzière set out to make a few sleeping mats out of empty milk bags last month, but her plea for used bags has been answered by so many that the daycare manager has been able to deliver her first dozen mats to homeless shelters in Quebec City.

Empty bags repurposed into portable, insulated pads for street youth in Quebec City

La Dauphine supervisor Claude Marin, left, said young people at the shelter were enthusiastic about Sandra Lauzière's mats, made from repurposed milk bags. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

An unexpected wave of support for a recycling project in Quebec City has allowed one daycare manager to donate more than a dozen sleeping mats to homeless shelters already, with more on the way.

Sandra Lauzière simply wanted to find a new purpose for the empty milk bags that kept piling up at the daycare she manages.

After searching online, she found the solution, based on a school project in Gatineau, Que.

One month after asking friends to send their extra bags her way, she's received more than 4,000, from all over Quebec City.

"I'm really surprised, but it's a great surprise, to see all these people who want to help," Lauzière said.

Instead of making just two mats over the winter as she'd planned, she's now completed 13, with the help of her family and volunteers.

Lauzière delivered the first batch last weekend to La Dauphine, an overnight shelter for marginalized youth, as well as some to Lauberivière, a multi-service refuge in the city's Lower Town.

"At the beginning, it was just supposed to be me and my family, but now it's much bigger than I thought," Lauzière said. "I didn't expect this."

One mat requires 170 bags that are cut up and braided together to make a thick, waterproof runner that act as a bit of insulation from the cold. The mat can also be easily rolled up to make a pillow or to be carried around during the day.

More than a dozen volunteers showed up at Sandra Lauzière's daycare over the weekend to help her weave used plastic milk bags into mats. (Camille Simard/Radio-Canada)

The end product serves two purposes: providing a better night's sleep for someone in need, and recycling a material that takes hundreds of years to break down in nature, Lauzière said.

"By recycling it, we're giving it a second life, and if it can help someone to sleep a little more comfortably, well that warms my heart."

Youth 'moved' by initiative

For the mats' recipients, knowing that someone is thinking of them can leave a lasting mark, said Claude Marin, the clinical supervisor at La Dauphine.

"Many of them are isolated, have broken ties with their families. So to see people who are interested in them ... it moves them," said Marin.

On delivery day, he was pleasantly surprised to see his young clientele enthusiastic about the mats, already thinking of situations when they could use them.

La Dauphine, located in the heart of Old Quebec, has been providing services for marginalized youth for more than 25 years. (Julia Page/CBC News)

"They were surprised, intrigued and sort of excited by the concept."

Some even had a few pointers for Lauzière, suggesting the mats should be longer to fit all sizes — a correction Lauzière said she'll be happy to make.

Marin said he's considering having workshops at La Dauphine's day centre, so people who could use the mats can learn how to make them themselves.

Lauzière said organizations across Quebec, including elementary schools, youth centres and seniors' groups, have contacted her to find out how they can pitch in.

Sandra Lauzière uses 170 empty milk bags to make each thick, plastic mat that's donated to local homeless shelters in Quebec City. (Spencer Van Dyk/CBC)

Lauzière said while the response to her project has been enthusiastic, she is taking it one step at a time.

She is busy with the daycare and six kids of her own, but she still finds a few minutes each day to work on the mats.

"In the end, you realize that you always have a little bit of time to help others."


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