For Priscilla Mead, it was a bit of a challenge. A fellow member at First Community Church encouraged her to use her knitting and crocheting skills to make sleeping mats for the homeless - not out of yarn but out of thick plarn made from plastic grocery bags. After her first mat, Mead was ready to throw in the towel, but she stuck with it and now finds herself hooked.
For Priscilla Mead, it was a bit of a challenge.
A fellow member at First Community Church encouraged her to use her knitting and crocheting skills to make sleeping mats for the homeless — not out of yarn but out of thick plarn made from plastic grocery bags.
After her first mat, Mead was ready to throw in the towel, but she stuck with it and now finds herself hooked.
“It got easier as I went, and I like making things that are useful,” said Mead, a former Upper Arlington mayor and state senator. “It gives me great joy, and it gets a little addictive.”
So addictive, in fact, that she has found herself chasing down plastic bags at grocery stores to provide a constant flow of material.
Mead gathered this week to help make plarn with other members of the Mat Ministry at First Community Church. The church, with locations on the Northwest Side and in Marble Cliff, gives the 3-by-6-foot mats to clients of its Heart to Heart food pantry and the Near Northside Emergency Material Assistance Program food pantry in the Short North.
Yvonne Niklas, assistant director at the Near Northside group, said clients who receive the mats often sleep under bridges and are grateful to have the warm, water- and bug-resistant cushions. She said they otherwise would sleep on cardboard or old clothing.
Joan Talmage, who helped start the project in March, said she and other retirees at the church had been searching for a volunteer project when they encountered the mat ministry at Worthington United Methodist Church.
Thirty-six mats later, they’re still going strong. They recently were asked to share the project with fifth-graders looking for a service project at a nearby school. Similar mat ministries have moved from church to church and group to group across the country.
Sue Heilman at Worthington United Methodist said her group started making mats in 2011 and has since made 299 for the Open Shelter, which works with homeless people. They have shared the project with other churches and groups, including middle-school students and a volunteer center in Delaware.
She learned about the project from her mother’s church in her hometown of North Hampton in Clark County. Vineyard Columbus also has a mat-making program, as does the state prison system.
“It’s like planting a seed,” Heilman said. “You know you plant a seed, and you know it must sprout, but you don’t know exactly to what extent.”
Talmage said as many as 17 people in the First Community group meet every three weeks or so at her house in Marble Cliff to make plarn. Volunteers separate, smooth and stack bags by color. Then they cut them into 3-inch strips that are looped together and rolled into balls. Volunteers take the balls home to crochet or knit the mats with large hooks or needles.
Volunteers say they appreciate being able to help others as they bond with other church members and recycle the plastic bags.
Talmage said the project has developed a life of its own. Just this week she learned that the mats could be useful for orphans more than 1,500 miles away.
The Rev. Kate Shaner, First Community’s minister of mission, leaves Saturday to visit the Dominican Republic with a group of high-school students. She plans to take some of the mats to an orphanage there.
Shaner said the mat ministry is part of the congregation’s effort to take care of one another.
“It’s a community of people taking care of people,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to achieve.”