PARIS, Pa. - When Cetna Bowland of Paris first heard of projects to make sleeping mats out of plastic bags for the homeless, she was intrigued.
"I prayed on it," she said.
After finding instructions on the project, she approached Paris Presbyterian Church pastor, the Rev. Tina Hosler, about holding a class at the church's The Gathering Place Coffee Shop.
Photos by Summer Wallace-Minger
Evelyn Buckley of Weirton, left, and Cetna Bowland of Paris, Pa., show a completed sleeping mat and carrying strap. The mats fold up into a pocket at the end of the mat for storage and easy transportation.
-- Summer Wallace-Minger
"The first time, we got five people together, but it just keeps getting bigger and bigger," said Bowland. "God has blessed us."
The mats, which are 81 inches long and 36 inches wide, are made by cutting plastic grocery and garbage bags into strips, tying those strips together and crocheting them into a mat. The mats are made with a pocket, so it can be rolled up and tucked into the pocket for storage, and a carrying strap. It takes approximately 800 to 1,000 grocery bags to make a single mat, and the church's congregation brings in bags for the effort.
"It depends on how big your stitches are," said Bowland.
The group frequently tucks items such as socks and gloves and personal hygiene items into the mats' pockets.
Those who have participated have ranged in age from 11 to 93 years old and have included both men and women.
"We have a very dedicated group," said Bowland. "It's not just women, but gentlemen and children, too."
Anyone is welcome to help. Crochet skills are not necessary, and those who have not crocheted before will be taught. Crocheting isn't the only task the group needs done - those willing to cut up the bags and tie them into "threads" also are needed.
Bowland said she hopes other church representatives will come and learn how to make the mats and form their own groups to make mats for the area homeless.
Over the past eight months, the group has made approximately 18 mats, distributing them through the City Mission in Washington and the Salvation Army in Weirton. The group also plans to deliver mats to Urban Mission Ministries in Steubenville.
Judy Pearce of Frankfort Springs said she heard about the group through word of mouth.
"It's wonderful that we can help them (the homeless) in some way," she said.
Pearce has only been attending for three weeks, but she has brought her mat home with her and often works on it in the evening as she watches television.
"It's a great group - all these people from different towns coming together, having coffee and a lot of fun," she said.
She hasn't crocheted in decades, but wanted to do something to help the area homeless.
Julie Dhayer of Paris has made two mats since joining the group.
"We have some people who come from way off," she said. "It's just taken off."
"I'm hoping I can do this little bit to help them," she said.
Linda Caleffia of Weirton has been participating in the group for about three months.
"When I saw it (a flyer advertising the group), I was interested in it," she said. "Some of (the mats) have a stitch or two dropped, but it's so nice, taking something you would ordinarily throw away and making something of worth out of nothing," she said. "It's a lot of fun."
Gwen Pethtel of Georgetown has recruited friends to come and participate in the group as well and assists others in learning how to crochet.
"My husband and I have been riding to and from Steubenville on some of these really cold nights when it's been below zero, and one night, we saw a fire under one of the overpasses," she said. "We learned that there was a man living under there. It's been tugging at my heart. This is something we can do to make a difference for people who are having a hard time."
Carol Tucceri of Moon Township said there are many homeless people living in the Pittsburgh area and added she hopes that the project will catch on with other churches.
"My daughter's friend lives down in North Carolina, and they've got a class going on now, too," she said.
Gerold Gray of Weirton also has been moved by the plight of the local homeless and, when he saw a notice in the paper about the class, decided to give it a try.
"I can't understand anyone living under a bridge," he said. "Whatever the situation, if we can do something to make them a little more comfortable, I think it's a great idea."
For information on the mats for the homeless project, call the church from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at (724) 729-3450 or visit during the weekly meeting at 10 a.m. on Thursdays at the church's The Gathering Place Coffee Shop located at 127 Steubenville Pike.