By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
FEBRUARY 7 – To make life more comfortable for people who are homeless, students at East Forsyth High School are crocheting bedroll mats, using yarn made out of plastic grocery bags.
The German Club at East Forsyth is sponsoring the project with the guidance of Andrea Monroe, the German teacher who serves as the club’s adviser. Monroe got the idea from one of the ministers at her church. When she approached the members of the club, she said, “They were like, ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s do it.’”
“I thought it was one way to give back to the community,” said Jessica Slade, the club’s co-president.
Gerzayn Hernandez, the club’s vice president, also liked the idea of turning something that people often toss into the trash into something useful. “I thought it was a very unique idea,” he said.
All 25 members of the club – as well as other students drawn to the project - are participating. Making the plastic yarn – or “plarn,” as they call it – and crocheting the mats is a time-consuming process, and by the time the students have reached their goal of 20 mats, they will have invested hundreds of hours in the project.
“I am so proud of the German students at East Forsyth High School for recognizing a need to help their fellow man,” said Principal Patricia Gainey. “The mats they are making definitely show an act of love and compassion for adults in need.”
The German Club is known for taking on community-service projects. That’s something that Monroe has encouraged them to do, said Ashley Muffley, the club’s other co-president, and several students said that is one of the reasons they wanted to join the club. Previous projects include raising money for an East Forsyth student who has lymphoma, participating in walks that support organizations doing such things as combating hunger and helping people who have Alzheimer’s, participating in a PTSA Phone-a-thon and raising money to buy supplies for a women’s shelter.
“This has been our biggest project,” said Chase Boozer, the club’s treasurer.
Later this school year, club members plan to volunteer in a program sponsored by the Winston-Salem Dash that helps children with disabilities play baseball.
“The kids are really excited about that,” Monroe said.
The process of making plarn begins with flattening the bags, slicing off the bottoms and the handles and then cutting what remains into strips. Someone then loops the strips to form the plarn, which is rolled into a ball, just as regular yarn is. About 500 bags go into making enough plarn to crochet a mat. Addie Nash, the club’s secretary, already had considerable experience crocheting scarves, hats and such, and plarn is significantly harder to work with than regular yarn, she said. Crocheting each 4½ -foot-by-6-foot mat takes about 35 hours.
The students have found that some are best-suited to making plarn and others to crocheting, and they have divided up the work accordingly. Plarn-maker Jordan Wilson decided to participate in the project because he wanted to do something to serve others. “I’ve never had the opportunity to help the less-fortunate,” he said.
Making plarn is an enjoyable process, the students said. “You get to hang out with friends,” said Maria Hobert. “It’s relaxing, too.”
“Whenever I’m thinking, I like to do things with my hands,” said Ben Hudson. Making plarn works well for that, and he has been making plarn during his lunch period and coming in after school to make more.
Courtney Surface also heads to Monroe’s classroom to make plarn when she can. “I have put a lot of hours into this,” she said.
Addie has been taking the mat she is working on home with her so that she can continue crocheting there.
With plastic grocery bags coming in such colors as white, beige and black, plarn makers have the option of creating lengths of single-color plarn. When various lengths of single-color plarn are used, the mat ends up looking like a cross between a braided rug and a yoga mat. The plastic mats work well outside. Rain doesn’t cause them to deteriorate and crocheted plarn works well as insulation.
The students don’t have to worry about running out of bags before they finish the project. When they put out the word to the East Forsyth community that they wanted plastic bags for the project, people brought in more than 10,000 bags. (Yes, someone did count them.) One of the bags contained a necklace and a ring that someone had forgotten about so they turned those in to the office.
The grocery bags still awaiting their destiny to become plarn are stuffed into jumbo-size black plastic bags that are stacked in a corner of Monroe’s classroom. So far, the students have completed five mats. Once all 20 mats are done, they will donate them to Samaritan Ministries in Winston-Salem. The students want to provide blankets along with the mats, and they are selling suckers for 50 cents each to raise money to do that.