Sarasota, FL

Sarasota Woman Uses Recycled Plastic Grocery Bags to Make Mats for the Homeless

L. Cane

A Sarasota woman who wanted to make a difference to others has found a way to help both the homeless and the environment.

What Happened?:

Michele Penn was looking for a way to help others, but she wasn't sure how she could be of use. One day, she was scrolling through Facebook when she saw women using plastic grocery bags to make mats for the homeless. Michele suspected that this was the idea she'd been waiting for: She told Your

“It touched me so much to hear the gratitude of these homeless people who were so appreciative that the ground was wet and they didn’t have to lie on the wet ground. I saw that on Facebook and thought, ‘That’s it! I can learn how to do that.’

Improving the Mat-Making Process:

Although Michele was enthusiastic, she didn't know how to crochet. So she started watching YouTube videos. Her first mat took her 33 hours. Today, Michele can make the mats more quickly because she has people in the community who help her. Michele will teach anyone willing to learn how to make the mats - from school children to residents of nursing homes.

Once Michele sped up the process of making the mats, she started to get creative in the construction of them. She'd visit different stores to get bags in different colors so she could make patterns. Each mat uses over 500 grocery bags that might otherwise be thrown away.

The Finished Products:

The finished mats are soft, durable, and easy to clean. They also keep the people who use them from having to lay directly on the hard, wet, or dirty ground. The recipients are usually surprised that someone is giving them something hand-made. Although Michele gives finished mats to the Salvation Army for distribution, she sometimes gives them away on her own.

To date, Michele and the communities who help her have made over 200 mats and used over 100,000 bags. Michele says the process of making the mats is quite easy, and even young children can use safety scissors to cut the bags into strips while older children can learn to crochet.

Here is a video of Michele teaching children how to make the mats:

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