BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN One winter day, LuAnn Winterhalter was perusing social media when something caught her attention.
“I was scrolling through Facebook one day and I saw these ladies sitting there crocheting,” Winterhalter said. “Usually, I scroll past videos. God prompted me to watch it.”
In the video, the women were crocheting plastic bags into bedding mats for homeless individuals.
“I watched the video and was like, ‘Why can’t we do that?’” Winterhalter said. “We have a lot of talented ladies in our church body who like to do outreach and that kind of thing.”
She posted the video to the Women of Westpointe Church Facebook group page.
“She asked me if I wanted to help her,” Ann Reese said. “My background is in coordination, so this is right up my alley. So, I went to Pinterest and learned how to do it. I’ve taught others, and they’ve taught others.”
Reese estimates there are now 75 to 100 people from a number of churches involved in the project, including seven or eight crocheters.
“It’s been very ecumenical, involving a lot of hands older, younger which has really kind of been my vision,” Reese said.
There’s a job for everyone, starting with collecting plastic bags that can be dropped off at Coborn’s or the Delano Senior Center.
As for constructing the mats, the first steps are to cut off the bag’s bottom and handles, and cut the bag into 1.5-inch-wide strips or wider if the bags are poorer quality essentially creating loops.
Those loops are tied together using the smallest knot possible, and the resulting strands are balled up to make them easier for the crocheter to handle.
“We told people they could just cut and roll, and not have to crochet,” said Nancy Nelson, who is currently finishing her fourth mat. “I didn’t know if I could crochet myself.”
Using a large crochet hook, the crocheter creates a large mat.
“A lot of them just give me the mat when it’s 6-feet-long-by-3-feet-wide and I do the finishing of adding the straps and the trim along the edge,” Reese said of the finished bed roll.
From start to finish, it takes about 600 bags to made one mat.
Neither Reese nor Nelson have added up how much time it takes to make each mat, but noted that it’s not a project one can sit down and do for several hours straight.
“You can’t, because it gets hard on your hands,” Reese said. “It’s hard to crochet these. I can do it for an hour or an hour and a half at a time.”
No two mats are the same and none are perfect.
“You told me God didn’t want these perfect,” Nelson said to Reese.
“I want a lot of people to be a part of it and I don’t want any of them to think they messed up. It’s just a design feature,” Reese said. “It’s interesting because some ladies who do it like to do patterns. Sometimes there’s a pattern and sometimes it’s just mismatched. It doesn’t matter.”
Reese said that different people have different interests and strengths that they are lending to the project.
“Some people like to fold and cut. Some people like to tie and roll. Some like to crochet. It’s all over the board,” Reese said. “Any group, like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, who wants to help, they’re more than welcome to join us.”
So far, 10 mats have been completed. Winterhalter said the goal is to create a total of 90 mats, collect blankets to go with them, and hand them out with a special note to homeless individuals in the fall.
She acknowledges it is a small gesture, but she hopes it makes a difference.
“We can’t give them all a home or fix their situation, but we can say, ‘We do care that you might have to sleep on wet cement and we want you to have this so at least you don’t have to sleep on wet cement,” Winterhalter said. “Even saying that aloud, it seems so little. If people can know there’s other people who genuinely care about them, the next person who comes along to help them, they may be more receptive.”
While the aim of the project is to help homeless individuals in the cities, Winterhalter believes it is bringing members of the local community closer together, as well.
“I believe God is knitting people in our community together so as a community we can be stronger together,” Winterhalter said.
For more information, contact Reese at (763) 972-1299.
“If somebody wants to be taught to crochet these, I’d be happy to do that,” Reese said. “If they want to do any part of this, we’d be more than happy to teach them.”