'Tis the season not only for giving but for inclement weather, and Volunteer High School students and members of the environmental club Renewing All In Nature (R.A.I.N.) have discovered an eco-friendly way to help grant the homeless a drier sleep.
“R.A.I.N. began in 2010 when a student came to me because she saw a need to educate our [Volunteer] students on the importance of caring for the Earth and its resources,” said Nora Barton, Volunteer High School teacher and club sponsor for R.A.I.N. “I jumped on the opportunity from the beginning and we have grown in members and projects every year since.”
Through their latest service project called Mats for Homeless, R.A.I.N. members collect and recycle plastic shopping bags throughout the greater Church Hill region and use them to crochet plastic, weather-resistant sleeping mats for those exposed to the elements during the holiday (and every) season.
The project, conducted under different titles and in different capacities in cities across the country, is performed (mostly) by churches and volunteer organizations in an effort to provide homeless individuals with some sense of comfort despite the harsh conditions presented by living outside.
“I heard about the idea from a friend who moved to Church Hill from Maryville. Her church made them and sent them to shelters in Knoxville,” Barton explained. The mats are light and the plastic dries easily so they are ideal for outdoor conditions when there might not be another option available to people.
The crocheted plastic mats are not only a green alternative to plastic bag disposal, but also durable and portable for the convenience of their needful recipients. The mats may be used for sleep anytime, anywhere, even during wet weather (rain or snow).
“We collect plastic bags from wherever we can get them! It takes between 700 to 1,000 bags to complete a mat, so we can never have too many bags,” Barton said.
United by the same vision of helping others while benefiting the environment, the 20 members of R.A.I.N., who Barton said “all help in some capacity on the project,” happily execute the tedious steps required to convert a multitude of plastic shopping bags into a sleeping mat.
“The bags are flattened and cut into strips that are then knotted together to form a string. The string is called 'plarn'( plastic yarn). It is then crocheted into a 6-foot-by-3-foot mat. The mats are out of our hands once they are made and given to a friend to take to local shelters and specific people,” she said.
With an abundance of plastic and time needed to crochet each individual mat, Barton said, they've “only made three mats so far, but many are in progress...
“This project is a large undertaking with slow result, but the students understand the idea and how important it is to take something that was destined for the landfill and re-purpose it into something useful and needed. We hope we can continue to create mats as long as people are supplying us with the plastic bags.”