Arizona weavers use plastic bags to help the homeless

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Arizona weavers use plastic bags to help the homeless Blind Alice Wilse makes a plastic mat this December 19, 2018, at The Fountains at La Cholla, a retirement home for seniors in Tucson, Arizona. EFE

 Arizona’s elderly women have been using their skills as weavers for years in a supportive and ecological way: transforming plastic bags from supermarkets into mattresses for the homeless.
“This project started six years ago and since then is part of our center,” Abbie Stone, director of The Fountains at La Cholla, a retirement home for seniors, told Efe.


The program was established by Dwaine Greer, a former art professor at the University of Arizona who has since passed away.
The mats that come out of the hands of the weavers serve both as a mattress to sleep as a blanket to cover and give to those who need it.


Every week, ten women from The Fountains and staff from this center meet to make the mats made exclusively of plastic bags like those used in supermarkets and other businesses.


One of the women is responsible for cutting the bags into strips, another stretches them and binds them enrasing them in the same way as a ball of yarn and others are responsible for starting to knit using a hook like “crochet” (crochet).
It takes about four months of work to finish each rug, which is approximately 6 feet long by 3.5 wide.


“At least we work two hours a week, some of us work more hours on their own,” Norma Brewster, 79, told Efe while weaving one of these rugs.
Brewster indicated that the entire mat is woven in “crochet” in English, something easy for this veteran weaver, who started when she was 12 years old.


However, for others it is difficult since it is the first time they are learning to weave and it is more complex to do it with plastic strips.
“It’s something you can not do for a long time, because your hands start to hurt, but we know it’s worth it, because we’ll be helping a person who maybe is currently sleeping on the floor,” Brewster said.


The project helps the environment by giving a new purpose to plastic bags that might otherwise end up in the city’s municipal dumpster and take hundreds of years to disintegrate.


So far, plastic bags are not part of the City of Tucson recycling program and very few stores have a program to recycle them.
No one has counted how many bags are used in each rug, but it could be estimated that there are several hundred different colors.
“They constantly call me to ask if we are still receiving donations of bags, even some of them come to us from other parts of the country, by mail,” Stone said.


Once the rugs are finished they are donated to shelters and centers, who give them to the homeless.
Each mat, type mat is soft, cushioned, comfortable enough for a person to sleep on it or it can also be used as a blanket.


Because it is made of plastic bags, it is light so it can be easily moved from one side to the other, in the same way it can be washed and dried quickly.
Stone said one saw a man walking down the street in the center of town and was pleasantly surprised to see that one of these rugs was rolled up in his backpack.


“We realize that they are being used and that they serve the homeless,” he says with satisfaction.
The project also has other benefits: it helps and motivates seniors to feel useful and serve the community and makes their hands and mind awake.


Despite being blind, Alice Wilse has learned with patience to weave the rugs.
“I have to pay close attention and concentrate so as not to be wrong,” says Wilse as he knits.
Women try to give different designs to each rug, so each of them is unique.


Stone indicated that the program is gaining popularity and will now begin working with students from the University of Arizona and the Pima Community College who have become interested in participating.
Stone indicated that they are thinking of training to expand this project perhaps to other parts of the state or the country.


For this they are thinking about making videos on platforms like YouTube where the volunteers talk about the work they do. (EFEUSA) .-

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