WASILLA — Sandra Giddens is making something very useful out of her extra time and recycled plastic grocery bags. For the past several weeks, the Wasilla Area Seniors Inc. resident has been crocheting sleeping mats for homeless people out of surplus plastic bags.
She said she began the effort after reading a magazine story about a church group making mats to send to areas devastated by weather events.
“I wanted to do something to help,” Giddens said. “I want to help people to where my life still means something to someone.”
With school out for the summer, homeless youth no longer have the food and other resources that Mat-Su Borough School District schools connect them with during the school year.
It can also mean more homeless people are camping outside, said Dave Rose, director of the Mat-Su Coalition on Housing and Homelessness.
“The mats might keep them a little warmer, which is cold transfer from earth to body,” he said. “It might warm their body, warm their heart and warm up the community.”
Rose said he uses a variety of organizations to gauge the number of homeless people in the Valley, such as Mat-Su Youth Housing, Family Promise and Wasilla Food Pantry.
Giddens’ sleeping mats are just one small effort among many, he said.
“If someone gets a mat, the most positive thing to come from that is that those homeless kids then know somebody cares,” Rose said. “Knowing somebody cares is huge.”
Michelle Overstreet oversees Mat-Su Youth Housing, or MYHouse.
“Two and a half years ago we started with a task force. I said we don’t need a 10-year plan, we need a 10-month plan,” she said.
MYHouse is currently operating without a permanent location. Overstreet has applied for several grants, including one from the Mat-Su Health Foundation, with the hopes of providing a shelter for young people ages 18 to 24.
“If we were to get mats to places they would end up being distributed at our satellite location churches where we offer shelter, laundry and food once a week,” Overstreet said. “We have a priority of providing shelter, food, clothing and access to resources for homeless youth partnering with groups and agencies tying services together and developing a gathering place for unaccompanied youth to one stop shop.”
Giddens spends a large amount of time on the mats. Her hope is to get more volunteers working on the project.
“I work on it about two to three hours each day,” she said. “The magazine said 35 hours per mat, but I don’t know if that’s accurate.”
Giddens grew up in Caldwell, Idaho, but moved to Alaska two and a half years ago.
Each mat begins by cutting the tops and bottoms off of ordinary plastic grocery bags. Then the bags are cut into 1-inch wide strips. Those strips are strung together and go into a ball of rolled plastic, which Giddens then crochets into a single stitch mat.
What results is a dull rainbow of grocery bag whites, browns, some blues, and even a yellow, which she pointed out, is foreign to Alaskans.
“The yellow ones are from Dollar General bags,” she said.
Giddens has help from a few other WASI residents once a week, mostly covering the preparation of the bags into strips. Giddens said she is willing to teach others the technique.
“I’m willing to teach it to anyone,” she said.
One finished mat went to Bert Cottle, deputy administrator for the city of Wasilla, who has taken it and shopped the idea around to other groups of people willing to help with free hands and plastic.
“She said her goal is to make as many as she can and maybe we give them out to the homeless to sleep on. Maybe we sell them and give the proceeds to a Valley homeless organization,” Cottle said. “To keep the bags out of the trees and do something useful with them is a great idea.”
Giddens said it takes 500 to 700 bags to make one mat. She said just about anything that can be crocheted from yarn also can be crafted from the plastic strips.
“I could make a bath mat or a handbag, but what good is that?” she said.
People can drop off bags to donate to the effort at the Wasilla Area Senior Inc.
For more information, contact Giddens at 631-4230.
Contact intern Tim Rockey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-2252.