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These volunteers turn plastic grocery bags into mats for the homeless

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Anne Young crochets a sleeping mat out of plastic grocery bags. The mats are given to homeless people sleeping on the street. Cody Rogness / The Forum2 / 4
The Mat Ministry is made up of about 8 parishioners at First Congregational UCC Church in Fargo. Cody Rogness / The Forum3 / 4
It takes about 900 grocery bags to make one 3-by-6 mat. The Mat Ministry mixes up the colors of the bags to make the mat more colorful. Cody Rogness / The Forum4 / 4

FARGO — It's quiet on weekday mornings at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Fargo. Six people — five women and one man — sit quietly at a table drinking coffee, nibbling on cookies and talking the way only the best of friends do.

"Bob is our one man. We'd like to get more, but no one else comes," says one woman.

"Yeah, so I get stuck making the coffee," Bob replies.

"But you're so good at it," replies another woman.

But the group of friends has a bigger mission than teasing Bob. Once a month, they gather together to help men and women, who normally sleep on the streets, find a little warmth and comfort. For the past three years, Mat Ministry has taken common, everyday plastic grocery bags and crocheted them into sleeping mats for the homeless.

Anne Young, leader of Mat Ministry, brought the idea from her old church in Mayville, N.D.

"I thought it was a great thing to do with plastic bags because most people have more plastic bags than they can ever use," Young says. "As long as they keep making the bags, we can use them so homeless people don't have to sleep on the hard ground."

Young says mat making is actually pretty easy. You simply flatten and fold the bags a couple of times. Then cut off the ends and handles before cutting the plastic into 2-inch strips. Attach these strips together and roll into a ball much like you would a ball of yarn. From there, the plastic "yarn" is crocheted into a surprisingly comfortable mat.

While Mat Ministry meets officially once a month, Young says most of the members work on the bags at home — whether it's folding, cutting or crocheting them into mats.

"It's really fun for me," Young says. "Anyone who crochets would find this easy to do."

Young says it takes about 900 plastic bags, most of which are donated by parishioners, to make one 3-by-6 mat. She estimates they've made about 20 of them over the years.

Plastic bags are cut into strips and attached together, then rolled into a ball so they can be crocheted. Cody Rogness

The local shelters haven't needed them because they have mattresses, so Mat Ministry has given them to Life Center, a church in Minneapolis where pastors pass them out to people sleeping on the streets and sidewalks.

"We received a lovely thank you from the church which really pleases us to know they're being used and they do appreciate it," Young says.

Mat Ministry says they're excited because the idea seems to be catching on.

"One of our members has a relative in Larimore (N.D.) and she told her about it, so they asked for the instructions so they could start making them," Young says.

The group says it's nice to know the much-maligned plastic bag — outlawed in some cities and cluttering up landfills in others — is getting a little good press by evolving from garbage into a good night's sleep.

"We're doing something good for the environment and for people who need a little help," Joan Mogck says. "That's fun for us."

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

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