Warmth for homeless vets

Warmth for homeless vets

Community comes together to make plastic mats for homeless veterans in St. Charles County

By Brett Auten

Kathy Frecks summed it up the best, “They’re cold and need some help.”

Frecks, a St. Charles resident, helped kickstart a unique community project in conjunction with the annual Vietnam Veterans Mid Rivers Chapter 458 Boot and Helmet fundraiser.

The idea to make sleeping mats out of plastic bags for the homeless started around Thanksgiving when the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 458 learned – through the St Joachim and Ann Care Service – of homeless veterans living in wooded areas around St. Charles County. 

The VVA 459 members were already donating 24 bags of supplies to the homeless veterans over Christmas. Those bags were filled with scarves, hats, gloves, flashlights, bug spray, and baby wipes among other essentials. Frecks went online to see what other items she could donate to help keep them warm and stumbled upon a project that helped keep their bedding dry.

From city to city across the nation, community service projects to benefit local shelters and the homeless in your area where children and adults of all ages combine their creativity, talents and spare time to provide sleeping mats for those in need to weather the elements by using plastic yarn made from plastic bags. Plarn is the ‘yarn’ also known as plastic yarn that is used to knit or crochet the plastic mat. Plarn is constructed from plastic shopping bags and is used the same way you would use yarn in knitting or crocheting. The mats are bug resistant, dry easy, are lightweight, cost nothing but time and help to prevent hypothermia.

“I started collecting bags from friends and family and area businesses and realized right away that I was going to need a lot of bags and help to cut and to wind them up,” Frecks said. “I asked some church members and soon found out, particularly when they found out it was for veterans, that they were more than willing to help.”

The mats also help keep the plastic bags out of the landfill and can be easily rolled up and carried. Frecks said she is closing in on 17 mats totals with anywhere from 500-700 bags used per mat.

When it came to the donation bags and the mats, Cathy Perrine, with the Vietnam Veterans Mid Rivers Chapter 458, was pleased with the cooperation.

“I was amazed at the number of people who were so willing to help,” Perrine said. “We all try to do what we could. It just sort of grew and grew.” 

Thanks to members of the Zion Lutheran Church, bags came in aplenty. And among the volunteers that were willing to help flatten bags, cut bags into strips, and create the “plarn” needed to create the mats were the Ladies Bible study members, Amy Bernhardt’s first grade class at Zion Lutheran School, American Heritage Girls, Blue Star Moms (a private nonprofit organization in the United States that provides support for mothers who have sons or daughters in active service in the U.S. Armed Forces) and many friends and family members. Once completed, the mats were then handed over to the St Joachim and Ann Care Service members who distributed them right before Christmas.

Frecks said she would continue as long as there is a need.

“We could never have done it without the community responding to the need,” Frecks said. “There were several steps between folding cutting, and stringing them together. But we had everybody from a blind lady to a first grader help out. I think it says a lot that these people took time out during a busy time of the year to help with this project.”

CUTLINE: Photos by Ray Rockwell