Library volunteers make mats from plastic for homeless

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
A sleeping mat made from plastic bags is crocheted together.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A free class that teaches volunteers how to crochet mats from plastic bags will be held tonight, Thursday, Oct. 3, in the Civic Center, from 6 to 8 p.m. It will be repeated Friday, Oct. 18, at the same hour.

The word “volunteers’ is being used because this is a community service effort dubbed “Dream Mat Project” that is “aimed at providing persons experiencing homelessness with portable sleeping mats,” according to the Bloomfield Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Department. The Bloomfield Public Library and the Bloomfield Recycling Committee are also assisting on the project.

The mats produced are intended for distribution during the Martin Luther King Day celebration in the township, which highlights a day of service to the community.

The idea for Dream Mats came to Bloomfield from a workshop at the Woodland Park Library attended by BPL Director Holly Belli.
The Woodland Park Library, in partnership with Passaic County Senior Services, Passaic Valley High School and the Woodland Park School District, had hosted an intergenerational “Day of Service” in February, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and to make the dream mats. In June, the Passaic Valley High School was recognized by the state Department of Education for its effort.

In Bloomfield, Belli passed the idea to Gabriela Guida, a recreation leader at Bloomfield Recreation, who got in touch with Louise Palagano, the municipal clerk and Recycling Committee director, and soon collection sites for clean plastic bags sprang up.

At the Civic Center last week, Guida provided a demonstration. She carefully folded a plastic bag in half, and then again, top to bottom. Using scissors, she snipped off the handles and the bottom end and then cut the folded strip into quarters. Now she had four plastic rings. She stretched each out to make four thick strands of plastic bag yarn or “plarn.” A large, size Q crochet hook is used for making mats. A finished mat, carefully wrought with a striped design, was on display. To make one 3-by-7-foot mat, 500 bags are needed.

“They’re bug-resistant, water-resistant and they keep in the heat,” Guida said.
Ten people have already signed up for tonight’s crochet class. The plarn will be prepared by the Bloomfield High School students who are taking a genocide and holocaust class. Guida hopes to have 10 Dream Mats made by volunteers. She will be assisted by BPL volunteer Kimberli MacKay, who directs a knitting group at the library.

But if knitting with yarn instead of plarn seems more inviting, there is another class available to learn how to do so at the library, just across the plaza from the Civic Center. Lisa Hoffman, the BPL supervising librarian in charge of adult services, said the library knitting class meets every first and third Thursday and every second Monday.

“Kimberli can do anything if it’s got strings,” Hoffman saidof McKay. “We call the knitting group ‘All Strings Attached.’”
Around this time of year, knitting group participation at the library bumps up a little, Hoffman said, with the holidays coming and people dropping in to create gifts.

“You just walk in,” she said. “The material is available.”
She also said something new is being added to the library menu: a poetry club. This begins Wednesday, Oct 16, at 6:30 p.m. and will run for nine weeks. Participants will write and read their own works and for their last meeting, on Wednesday, Dec. 18, will give public readings in the Little Theatre.

To learn more about the Dream Mat Project, contact Gabriela Guida at 973-743-9074. Lisa Hoffman may be reached at 973-566-6200, ext. 215.