Thunder Bay

Local group in Thunder Bay, Ont. helping the homeless by crocheting sleeping mats out of plastic bags

A local group in Thunder Bay, Ont. is giving shopping bags a new life by repurposing them into plastic mats that can be used by homeless people to provide extra comfort and warmth.

Don't know what to do with your old plastic shopping bags? A local group is turning them into plastic mats

John and Chris Wreszczak holding a plastic sleeping mat that they crocheted. (Laurie Sandham)

A local group in Thunder Bay, Ont. is giving shopping bags a new life by repurposing them into plastic mats that can be used by homeless people to provide extra comfort and warmth.

But, John Wreszczak, who co-leads the group with his wife Chris, says that the process to make the three by six feet long mats is very labour intensive, as each plastic bag has to be cut into strips and tied together to create plarn, or plastic yarn, which is then used to crochet the mats.

"They consist of approximately 400 to 700 shopping bags ... and it takes 6 hours to crochet one mat. It takes approximately 8 [additional] hours of cutting and plarning to generate sufficient plarn," said Wreszczak.

It was "a random meeting" with Anne Grose, who runs her own New Life for Old Bags group out of Illinois, that led the Wreszczaks to initiate their group in 2015.

"There seems to have been a need for it, and we were interested in providing that need," added Wreszczak.

Community members cutting and tying plastic bags to generate plarn. (Laurie Sandham)

Once the mats are crocheted, they are then picked up by the Thunder Bay Shelter House's Street Outreach Services (SOS) program.

Amber Prairie, development officer with Shelter House, said that this partnership is really important to them "because we don't have any funding, so we have to take donations from the community."

Prairie added that the mats are really appreciated, especially since it is not always possible to get everyone inside for the night.

"It's a big comfort thing to not be sleeping on the ground, and being able to couple that with a sleeping bag adds some necessary warmth."

The Wreszczaks and interested community members get together to make plarn and crochet the plastic mats at St. Paul's Anglican Church on the last Tuesday of every month.

Plastic bags and other canned food donations for the RFDA are encouraged.