Volunteer group turns plastic shopping bags into sleep mats for the homeless.

Local Groups Celebrates 100 Sleeping Mats for the Homeless

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A group of older adults are turning used plastic shopping bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. They just celebrated 100 mats donated.

“It makes my heart sad to see all the plastic going into the earth,” said Joann Ellingboe, one of the group’s co-organizers. “Every little bit helps.”

How it works: They collect used shopping bags from every source imaginable—including plastic bag recycling at Cub Foods and Walmart. The bags are then sorted, cut, turned into plastic yarn (or “plarn”), and crocheted into sleeping mats complete with ties and a shoulder strap.

  • The “plarn” is rolled into balls just like regular yarn.
  • The sorting, cutting, and creating “plarn” happens as a group, while the volunteers mostly crochet at home.
  • It’s harder to crochet than regular yarn, but it just takes adjusting to the different texture and tension.


  • Roughly 500 to 700 bags to make one mat.
  • 40 to 50 hours to complete a mat from start to finish.
  • 40 volunteers making it happen.

Who it helps: The mats are distributed by the Friday Night Street Team in Minneapolis. The mats offer protection from the cold ground and a softer place to sleep. While the group doesn’t get direct feedback from the homeless, they do hear that the mats are never left behind with other debris from homeless encampments.

Woman lying down on sleeping mat made from plastic shopping bags.
Organizer Jan Ellwanger shows a mat in use.

How it started: The group began in April 2021 toward the end of the pandemic. One of the organizers, Liz Connelly, saw a video showing how to do it online and said, “I can probably do that. I don’t have much else to do during COVID.”

  • “The seniors get a lot out of it,” said Ellingboe. “It helps the homeless, it keeps plastic out of landfills, and it’s social. We’ve built a community, which in this day and age is hard to do.”

How it’s going: The group celebrated 100 mats with cake and ice cream yesterday, but then got right back to work.

When & where: The volunteers come from West St. Paul, South St. Paul, and Inver Grove Heights. On the first Tuesday of the month they meet at the Grove in Inver Grove Heights and on the fourth Tuesday of the month meet at the Thompson Park Activity Center in West St. Paul.

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  1. My mother in law recently moved into our home. She belonged to a group in Houston Texas where they made mats for the homeless. She can no longer crochet but is willing and able to fold and cut bags. We live in Inver Grove Heights and are hoping to find a group for her to join. Thanks for any direction you can give.
    Cindy Weber

  2. Hello ~ I would like to help with making mats for the homeless. Tuesday would work best for me. Are more volunteers needed? If so, let me know. Also let me know what hours do the volunteers gather at the Thompson Activity Center on Tuesdays and what supplies do I need to bring, if any? Thank you kindly. I await your reply.

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