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Sue Roemer recycles plastic bags and creates a worthwhile by-product

by Joan Hellyer

Northampton resident Sue Roemer uses donated plastic bags and her tender heart to create sleeping mats for area homeless veterans and those battling addiction.

Each time she creates a mat, Sue prays and makes a wish that the person who will receive her gift of love and support “will find their way to a safer life.”

Volunteers with The Sleeping Mat Project work in partnership with Angels in Motion, a Philadelphia-based non-profit, to make and distribute the mats to people living on the streets.

Sue, a member of the township’s senior center, has been creating the mats for about a year.

“I enjoy making the mats knowing I am helping less fortunate people keep warm and dry,” she said. “Also I love recycling the bags and am always looking for plastic bag donations.”

She recently solicited donations from her fellow senior center members by showing them one of her creations.

No one else at the center creates them right now, but Sue is hoping that will change soon.

Most of the handmade mats are three-feet wide and six-feet long. There are four main steps to creating the sleeping mats, according to project organizers.

First, volunteers collect plastic bags from local stores and donors. Then, they cut the bags into loops.

They connect the loops and roll them into a ball. They then either crochet or Peg Loom the plastic into the sturdy sleeping mats.

The volunteers call the material they use to make the mats “Plarn,” because it is plastic used the way they would use yarn to make a scarf or sweater.

“The mats are not difficult, but maybe a bit time consuming,” Sue said. However, the investment is worth it, she said.

The mats provide a barrier from the ground for the people who use them. They are lightweight and durable.

“Due to the materials used, AIM sleeping mats are temperature friendly,” said Diane Bell, who started the mat-making program four years ago. “They are not prone to taking on the heat or chill of the environment and they are easily washable. Some mats contain pillows…which also serve as a place where an individual can store their belongings.”

Each mat comes with a carrying strap.

The mats are typically distributed during the cooler months of October through April with a blanket stuffed inside each of them.

In addition to helping people living on the streets, the sleeping mat enthusiasts say each of their creations helps keep between 500 and 700 plastic bags from ending up in the landfills.

“It is rewarding to see our communities recognize the need and come together to help create (the mats),” Diane said.

Children, families, senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans and volunteers in churches, youth organizations and academic institutions have created the sleeping mats to donate to those less fortunate.

Local sleeping mat producers work together via their “Sleeping Mat Project” page on Facebook to share their ideas with one another on how to make different types of the multi-colored gifts.

Sue says the best part of the Facebook page is being able to see photos of people receiving the mats.

“I enjoy how everyone is amazed with the lovely product from bags that would have been thrown out in the past,” she said.

It’s an honor to work on a project aligned with Angels in Motion, Sue said.

Carol Rostucher organized AIM in 2015, after searching for her drug-addicted son in the Kensington section of Philadelphia and finding so many others who also were suffering while battling addiction and homelessness.

Mat project volunteers work “hand-in-hand with the AIM program, which provides warm items, food, and encouragement,” Sue said. “It is reminding them that people still care.”

Send an e-mail to dbell905@aol.com to find out how to become a Sleeping Mat Program volunteer.

Send an e-mail to marykaysuperior@yahoo.com to find out how to donate plastic bags for Sueto use to create more sleeping mats.

PHOTO CAP: Sue Roemer with one of her sleeping mats.