River Cities

Miami Springs Senior Center turning recycled bags into mats

Plastic bags can do more than just carry groceries. A few local residents have upcycled unwanted plastic bags into useful mats for the homeless. Local mat makers have brought the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” to life and they’re looking for others who would like to join in making a difference. 

The mat makers, led by Elizabeth King, began creating the upcycled mats at the Miami Springs Senior Center. Their project has quickly become a passion as onlookers realize how beautiful and how simple the mats are to make. 

The enthusiasm began one day when King went to the Senior Center with a tote bag made from grocery bags. People admired the bag and expressed an interest in learning how to make the totes. Soon people were bringing in their unwanted bags and the rest is history. 

“We began a class to teach everyone how to make the tote bags, which was used as a fundraiser to help various groups that are of interest to the seniors. Someone mentioned that sleeping mats for the homeless could also be made by the same process, so I went online, followed instructions, began a mat, and the seniors jumped right in to help,” shared King. “Of course, a sleeping mat is much larger and takes much more time than the tote bags, which means we work on them as a team. I get one started, then have it at the Senior Center any time they are gathering, and people will work on it when they can. My request was for each person to crochet at least one row, and during this process say a prayer for the person that will be using it. Homeless people are not necessarily in that place by choice. Their problems are many, some as a result of serving in the military to provide us with the freedom that we enjoy, and it is nice to do some small thing to say thank you to them. 

“When I realized we were indeed able to complete these homeless sleeping mats, I asked several ministers if they would be interested in distributing them and, of course, the answer was a big YES! When mats were shown to the congregation at Poinciana United Methodist Church, the congregation began bringing the bags to us. Many people have expressed interest in learning to crochet these mats.”

People who already know how to crotchet are happy to help, but King discovered that many who have never crocheted a day in their life are just as eager to learn. One lady who had never crocheted before was so enthused that she made a whole mat, except for the last few rows. The woman had a stroke and was not able to finish, but the committed mat makers finished it for her. Once the mat was completed, in the halls of the rehab at Fair Havens, grinning from ear to ear, the woman presented her mat to PUMC Pastor Gordon Pike, who assured her that he would get her mat to someone in need. 

Throughout the year, Pike and a few faithful friends take trips to the I-95 overpasses in downtown Miami. They bring hamburgers and cold bottled water to anyone they see living on the streets. They offer to pray with and/or for them.  

“When I first heard about the mats, I was enamored with the idea,” Pike said. “The beauty and the logic of it hit me right off. I have a ton of those grocery bags in my house and I’ve always felt guilty about the fact that they are used once and then, well, what do you do with them? They go to a landfill.

“When we give food and water to the homeless, you find them lying on the hard sidewalk, usually with several layers of cardboard underneath them. The cardboard serves two purposes — to cushion the hardness of the ground and it insulates them from the cold (when it’s cold). The problem is that it rains here a lot, so they have to constantly find new cardboard or figure out ways to keep their cardboard dry. The idea of plastic mats was perfect; they’re water proof!

“Before seeing the mats, I pictured something functional and maybe not very attractive. It was hard to picture and then I saw one.  The first thing that struck me was how beautiful they are. Lots of different stores use these bags, which means they come in a lot of different colors. The maker of the mat can be very creative and the result just beautiful. Each mat takes about 800 bags to make, which means 800 bags not going to the landfill. 

“Another feature of the mats that I absolutely love are these mats not only benefit the homeless and the landfills, they also benefit the person who makes them, knowing that they are helping homeless people and the environment.”

The vision is for the community, young and old, from various churches, civic organizations, clubs, schools, teams, etc., to send someone out to learn how to make the mats. That person can return to their organization and share what they’ve learned.

“Rev. Pike has offered to let us meet on Thursday nights at 7 p.m. at PUMC during the month of September (beginning Sept. 11) to show interested parties the entire process of preparing plastic bags, and all the steps to make a sleeping mat, including teaching how to crochet,” said King, who is also looking for donations of unwanted plastic bags. “We would also like to have everyone in our wonderful city and the surrounding communities join us at these meetings and help to make life a bit more comfortable for our homeless communities.”

If you’d like to find out more you can reach Elizabeth King at 786-338-3929 or eliz7bett@aol.com.