BRISTOL – While all the supermarkets are “going green” with reusable cloth shopping bags, the old plastic ones are being repurposed by a crafty and well-minded group.
Thousands of bags have been transformed into giant quilts for homeless residents sleeping outside in the city of Bristol. They are secured with a crocheted handle for easy transport, and provide a plush cushion and moisture barrier beneath ground-laden bedding. They are even being utilized in front of tent entrances in homeless encampments, as a door mat of sorts.
It took a chain of people to begin this project and ultimately, the whole community got involved.
The blankets are made by volunteers at the Bristol Senior Center and donated to The Agape House, which distributes them to the less fortunate people it serves.
The original idea came from Noelle Bates, who works on the city’s Corporation Counsel. Bates knew of a similar blanket ministry in Meriden and thought it might be a good project for local retirees. She suggested it to Senior Center Director Patty Tomascak, who immediately thought of the crafters who meet on Mondays to knit hats, mittens and other items for the center’s fall craft fair. After the holiday season had passed, they took on this project.
Now that the warm weather has arrived, the plastic quilts are proving especially useful to those living outdoors.
It takes 700 plastic bags to make a single one. A bag processing line begins with color sorting. This is followed by precise measurements, strip cutting and folding. The next few volunteers tie them together to form plastic yarn, or “plarn” as they’ve come to call it.
“It gives them a good feeling to know they’re helping someone in need,” Tomascak said.
Volunteer Judy Payne sat at the first table sorting bags early one Monday morning.
“If it wasn’t for this young lady in here every day, this wouldn’t be possible,” fellow volunteer Charlene Castle said of Payne. “She gets everybody going.”
“It gives me something to do,” Payne said.
Down the other side of the room was Debahra Parent, the last stop in blanket assembly. She crochets the blankets, continuing at home in the evenings.
“I can complete one blanket a week,” Parent said, her fingers moving gracefully around the latch hook.
Bristol Facilities Manager David Oakes took the reins on bag collection.
“He put a notice up on public works’ website, put receptacles in City Hall and soon we were inundated with plastic,” Bates explained.
Maintenance staff delivered the bags to the senior center by the truckload.
When Christine Thebarge from the Agape House stopped by to pick up seven quilts in March, she also took some time to address the quilters.
“This is perfect timing,” Thebarge told them. “I just want to let you know, what you’ve done is worth it. We are so thrilled to get these.”
City residents who took shelter at St. Vincent de Paul on cold winter nights often choose to live in encampments in forested areas of the city come spring. They might stop by the Agape House at 43 School St. in the daytime, for a cup of coffee and supplies. They also might take one of the quilts, which are naturally waterproof and durable.
Hearing just how useful their creations have proved to be brought a smile to Parent’s face. For the prior 50 years, she had only ever crocheted with traditional yarn, made from sheep’s wool or another textile. Plastic is quite different.
“It’s kind of rough on the hands,” she pointed out. “But it’s for a good cause.”