Daily Egyptian

Group weaves sleeping mats for Carbondale homeless

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(Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

(Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

MCT

MCT

(Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)

By Amelia Blakely

Every Tuesday, 62-year-old Brenda Johnson can be found at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, along with six to eight other women, weaving plastic bags into sleeping mats for Carbondale’s homeless.

Johnson, a native of Hurst, said until recently, she was working seven days a week cleaning houses. She stopped because she had to go on disability assistance, relying on the support of family, friends and landlords to make ends meet.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to rely on the people around them in times of need, Johnson said.

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“We’re all one paycheck away,” Johnson said.

She said that is why she decided to get involved in the mat-weaving project back in May.

The women fold, cut, knot together and crochet “plarn” — plastic yarn — into sleeping mats about six by eight feet in size. Anywhere between 500 and 600 plastic bags are needed for one mat, and so far the group has made 25 mats from the bags donated by community members and other local churches.

Mat-weaver Rosanne Roster, of Carterville, said homelessness is getting worse across the region because of the decline of the local economy, which was accelerated by the two-year state budget impasse that ended in July.

In 2016, 49.3 percent of Carbondale’s population lived in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The group began when the Rev. Kathryn Jeffrey at St. Andrew’s stumbled upon a how-to on the internet for making satchels from plastic bags. She said she asked the tutorial’s creator, Michelle Green, to modify it to make mats.  

Jeffrey, who has been with the church since 2014, said the project appealed to her because it combines three good deeds: recycling, charitable giving and bringing community members together socially.

“With three good things in its favor, it seemed to me that we needed to get going on it,” Jeffrey said.

When they are finished, the mats are distributed to local homeless shelters and food pantries, she said.

Local shelters tend to fill up quickly, and Jeffrey said when they can’t house any more people they give homeless people the mats so they don’t leave empty-handed.

The mats provide a dry place for the homeless or impoverished people to rest their heads at night. They are water-resistant, and the plastic prevents lice and other parasites from burrowing into the material, said Sheryl Browning, a volunteer from Carbondale.

They are also lightweight and durable, making it easy for the homeless to carry them, she said.

Roster said people might not be aware that homelessness is an issue in southern Illinois, which could be due to a lack of media attention and inadequate government assistance for the impoverished.

“The government feels homelessness is important, but not as important as other things,” Roster said.

The group gathers at St. Andrew’s every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. to weave the mats, and they welcome all community members and students. From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month, special weaving sessions are held for students who want to lend a hand.

Staff writer Amelia Blakely can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @AmeilaBlakely.

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