Le Sueur County women repurpose plastic bags into beds for people experiencing homelessness

Volunteers create recycled sleeping mats

Volunteers create recycled sleeping mats

A group of women in Le Sueur County has found a creative way to keep plastic shopping bags out of the landfill by crocheting them into sleeping mats for the homeless.

“I’ve never seen or heard anything like this before,” said Marge Godlewski, a volunteer with the group. “What they’re doing to keep the plastic bags out of the environment, I think, is beyond words.”

The group meets twice a week at American Legion Post 79 in Montgomery.

The idea started with Dorothy Kovarik, who learned how to crochet with plastic bags during a workshop at her church.

She shared the skill with some friends in 2016, who decided to start meeting weekly to make the mats.

The effort has since grown and now involves about 25 women who come together twice a week for this grassroots effort.

“We’re the bag ladies!” said Mary Kotek, who volunteers with the group. “We’re just a very unique group that loves to get together to do this. People around town, everywhere, are bringing us bags.”

The group has organized an assembly line to create the mats.

Some tables organize and flatten the bags, some cut them into strips, while others knot them into string to be rolled into balls of plastic yarn, which they call ‘plarn.’

Those who know how to crochet then take the plarn and turn it into three-by-six-foot sleeping mats.

It takes about 700 plastic bags to make one mat.

Kovarik said the completed mats are brought over in carloads to her church, NewDay Church in New Prague, which distributes them to various non-profits and people in need across Minnesota and throughout the world.

“They’re amazed. They cannot believe that we would take the time to do something for them like this,” Kovarik said. “It’s a good thing all the way around.”

The plastic bag sleeping mats have been given to organizations such as Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army.

Some have even been donated to mission work in Haiti and Europe.

Kovarik said the plastic beds are durable, waterproof, and insulating.

“I think it makes a big difference,” said Kotek.

The women estimate they have made at least 2,000 mats since 2016, which comes out to about 1.5 million plastic bags diverted from landfills.

“That’s part of our goal, to save the environment,” Godlewski said. “And you also know it’s going for a good cause.”

According to the EPA, about 3 million tons of plastic bags were sent to landfills in 2018, the most recent data on record.

“Anybody could learn this. You don’t have to crochet to do this. You just come and help us,” Kotek said. “There’s a camaraderie here and everybody feels good about it.”

The group said it is grateful for American Legion Post 79 for allowing them to meet there twice a week free of charge for this project.

The group meets every Monday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. until about 1 p.m. If you would like to join them for a session or donate plastic bags, email Dorothy Kovarik at dot.kovarik@gmail.com