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Weaving plastic for the homeless

Wednesday afternoons, a group of women gather at Humphrey Manor in Wadena to weave sleeping mats for homeless people. The ladies call themselves the "bag ladies" because the mats aren't made of fabric - but plastic bags that are cut into strips. ...

Ruby Bautch works on a plastic bag sleeping mat Wednesday afternoon at Humphrey Manor.
Ruby Bautch works on a plastic bag sleeping mat Wednesday afternoon at Humphrey Manor.

Wednesday afternoons, a group of women gather at Humphrey Manor in Wadena to weave sleeping mats for homeless people.

The ladies call themselves the "bag ladies" because the mats aren't made of fabric - but plastic bags that are cut into strips.

Joanne Perish was in Albuquerque, N.M. and heard about the mats being made there and wondered if she could bring the idea back to Wadena. She told some friends about her idea and they found instructions for weaving the mats online.

"It takes 500 to 700 bags per mat and many, many hours," she said.

Between six and 12 women now meet every Wednesday afternoon to work on the mats. They receive donations of plastic grocery bags at Humphrey Manor.

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The bags are 3 feet by 6 ½ feet. Along with a sleeping mat, towels and toiletries are given out to homeless people at the Salvation Army in Brainerd.

The women asked different agencies around Wadena if the mats and toiletry bags could be given out but didn't find an agency that could distribute the packages. The Salvation Army in Brainerd is able to distribute the packages and workers there said they are being used.

Vernadine Jensen is one of the women involved with the project and she has found it to be rewarding.

"A lot of these people are sleeping in abandoned buildings or on the ground if the weather is nice," Jensen said. "If you've ever been homeless these essentials are much appreciated."

Gail Moore can attest to that statement.

She has joined the group of ladies making the mats as a way of giving back. She was homeless for two years on the streets of Tucson, Ariz.

"I had gotten into trouble with drugs," she said. "Any money I had would go to drugs after I bought some food."

In Tucson, toiletry bags were given out twice a month and had a few small items.

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"If I had received any of this I would have been so grateful," Moore said of the mats and items being distributed through the Salvation Army.

In 2005, Moore's daughter asked her to visit in Minnesota.

"She tricked me into coming here," Moore said. "But I'm glad she did."

Moore went to rehab and has been clean since that time.

Ladies who are helping with the mat project have learned what it's like to be homeless from Moore and want to continue to help others who are homeless.

"I'm happy to give back," Moore said. "So many people who are homeless are afraid to get close for whatever reason. It's nice to be part of something and close to people again."

Wednesday afternoons have become a social gathering along with a work session.

"We usually have treats," Perish said.

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The bag ladies have completed 14 mats so far in just over a year. They continue to receive plastic bag donations at Humphrey Manor but are in need of donations to purchase toiletry items.

For more information or to help with the project, contact Joanne Perish at (218) 639-4439 or Vernadine Jensen at (218) 640-1017.

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