Volunteers crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- Volunteers near Chicago are helping people who are homeless in Madison. They're helping the environment, too, by crocheting sleeping mats out of recycled plastic bags.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are busy at Bethel Lutheran Church. Food is served and clothes are given out for people who are homeless to take what they need. In a room full of donations, you'll find one item that is as unique as it is helpful.

"It's about seven feet long... Yes, this is actually crocheted out of plastic grocery bags," said Bev Thom with Bethel Lutheran Church Homeless Ministry.

The sleeping mats are made of recycled plastic bags and made by hand.

"People do come back and say, 'Do you have any more mats?' For one thing, they're lightweight so that when you're carrying all your belongings at least that isn't heavy. They're waterproof and you throw them in the washer if they get dirty and roll them up into a pretty compact item," said Thom.

The mats were made in Plano, Illinois. They made it to this area thanks to Keith Call.

"Yea, I'm kinda the middleman in this," said Call.

He's a driver for Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin. His sister-in-law is involved in a group called New Life for Old Bags and asked if he could help distribute the mats.

"She came to me because she knew I worked for Second Harvest and we distributed to pantries and maybe they can expand where they send these to," said Call.

Call said each mat takes about 50 hours to make.

"They drop off the bags at the Plano library and they cut them apart. It's a plain old simple bag in strips, flatten them out and somebody who knows how to crochet starts crocheting them," said Call.

From Plano to Madison, it's time and effort that makes a difference.

"I can say today, ya know, I did something good. I helped somebody out today," said Call.

The plastic bag mats have also been donated to Bethel Lutheran from Reedsburg, Wisconsin.

The church's homeless ministry could also use warm clothes, blankets, pillows, jackets and other winter gear donations.

For more information, visit the church's website.