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Hoosier women turning plastic grocery bags into mats for people without homes

Grocery Bag Mats.png
Posted at 8:36 PM, May 18, 2023

RUSHVILLE — Four Hoosier women are using their creative talents to take an item that's usually tossed in the trash into something that can provide shelter and warmth for people without homes.

Ruth Koelmel, Kathy Newkirk, Mary DeLay and Betsy Williams are on a constant mission to collect plastic bags, like the ones commonly found in your local supermarkets like Kroger and Meijer. But they aren't picky, they'll gladly take your Dollar General, Lowe's or even Dollar Tree bags as well!

They take those usually discarded plastic bags and turn them into colorful, thick and beautiful mats which they donate for the unhoused.

"It's time consuming but rewarding, " Kathy Newkirk said.

Newkirk retired 5 years ago and has now turned to this to challenge her creativity.

"Once I got started, now I don't to quit. When you see finished product you realize its well worth it, " added Newkirk.

Ruth Koelmel is a retired elementary teacher. 10 years ago, she heard about a group in Lafayette recycling bags to help the homeless and she decided to do it herself.
 
Initially, she crocheted the bags.

"The first ones we made crotchet looked like rugs," Koelmel said. "They were not as thick. These are thicker."

Koelmel needed something that would allow her to produce the mats with greater ease, so she asked a friend if he could make her a loom.

Even with the assistance of the loom, it takes time to get the job done.

A loom normally weaves together threads to make big blankets.

The process is time consuming. The grocery bags are cut, resized and tied together like strands and placed in the loom to be turned into mats.

Koelmel believes they've made about 200 mats in ten years

Mary DeLay is also part of the team. "Faith is helping other people to me."

Susan Williams like to knit her plastic bags. Her latest creation took 17 hours to make. She's not seen a grocery bag the same way since she began on this project.

"I see a mat. I see someone who can use this. Somebody who is needy and needs a place to stay warmer, a little bit softer. I have a way to help them," Williams said.

"I'll take any plastic bag. Any used plastic," she added. "Some people have said they bought plastic bags. That's not the purpose."

The ladies work with a number of charities in the area that serve homeless families.