Women crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless veterans

pseligson@newsobserver.comJuly 18, 2014 

In Pine Level, a women’s group is simultaneously aiding the environment and veterans who have fallen on hard times.

The auxiliary to American Legion Post 405 is crocheting plastic bags into mats that homeless veterans can sleep on. The mats, about six feet long and soft, keep a veteran dry if the ground is wet and retain heat on cold nights.

“The best part of it is it doesn’t cost anything,” said Sharon Neville of Clayton, the American Legion Auxiliary’s statewide president last year.

From 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Wednesday, about 10 women come together to work on the mats. Most are members of the Pine Level American Legion auxiliary; some are simply volunteers who want to help.

For a project called “Homeless, Not Helpless,” the state American Legion Auxiliary asked each local group to crochet two mats to donate to a veterans hospital. The Pine Level group made two mats for the veterans hospital in Fayetteville. The woman are now making mats for Johnston County veterans.

Each mat takes around 700 bags and 100 hours to crochet. The bags come from stores and from people who have them laying around the house.

“The mission of the auxiliary is to take care of all veterans, especially homeless veterans,” Neville said. Other American Legion auxiliaries across the county are joining the project, she said.

“This is something that can go on all the time,” Neville said while visiting the Pine Level group on a recent Wednesday. “This is a project that the entire community can work on.”

Each group member typically works on a different part of the mat-making process.

First, each plastic bag is smoothed out and the handles cut off. Then the bags are cut into strips that are tied together with slip knots. The women then roll the long strands into balls, like yarn.

Next, someone uses crochet needles to stitch the mat together. Finally, the women add a tie so a veteran can roll up his mat and sling it over his shoulder.

Margaret Boyles, 83, of Micro said she enjoys having something to do in retirement. She often works on her mats while watching TV. “We’re doing a service for our boys and girls that went off to war,” she said.

“It’s a shame we have veterans that are homeless,” said Brenda Pittman, 65, of Pine Level. She likes making the mats because the project keeps plastic bags out of landfills while helping people.

Pittman agrees with what someone told her recently: “You may not agree with the war, but you need to respect the people there that are fighting for your freedom.”

To learn more about the project, call Heidi Sullivan, the Pine Level auxiliary president, at 919-320-6969. To donate bags, call Sullivan or drop them off at the Pine Level American Legion Auxiliary building in the same drop-off box that accepts soda tabs. The building is on U.S. 70-A.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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