Three Pillars Residents Turn Plastic Shopping Bags into Mats for Those in Need

For years, knitting was just another hobby for Lois Bergmann, resident at Three Pillars Senior Living Communities in Dousman. She enjoyed the challenge of bringing her ideas and patterns to life, but she never knew just how much her skill could impact the communities around her for the better.

In early 2018, Lois came across an article about a woman who crocheted mats for the homeless made out of nothing more than plastic shopping bags. Her interest was piqued and she immediately went to the internet to learn everything she could about how to create these mats herself.

Lois began to wonder how she could do this at Three Pillars. And boy, did she ever. Lois called on her friend and fellow resident, Judi Wright, to help get the project kicked off, and the two of them managed to bring the idea to life on the Dousman senior living campus.

Three Pillars resident Lois Bergmann creating mats woven of plastic bags.

The mats, which are designed to be portable and weather-resistant, are not created overnight. The plastic bags must be clean, the right thickness, and free of flaws, so the first part of the process is checking each and every bag to make sure they meet those standards. Once the bags pass the durability test, they are then flattened, folded, and cut into tiny strips. These strips then get tied together, creating what is dubbed “plarn” (plastic yarn). This plarn is what is used to crochet the mats, with the help of an oversized crochet hook.

After about two days (48.4 hours to be exact, thanks to a time study done by Three Pillars resident Bob Mund) and roughly 700 intertwined bags, one mat is done. The completed mats are 2 ½ feet wide and 6 feet long, with two carrying straps and one more strap to keep it rolled up. In total, they weigh less than 5 lbs each.

Lois and Judi started off working by themselves, but the more people heard about what they were doing, several more residents expressed interest in joining them. They all started working together, contributing the skills they had, from collecting bags to crocheting mats to sorting, flattening, and trimming bags.

Lois and Judi started off working by themselves, but the more people heard about what they were doing, several more residents expressed interest in joining them. They all started working together, contributing the skills they had, from collecting bags to crocheting mats to sorting, flattening, and trimming bags.

Before they knew it, Lois and Judi were fielding hundreds of bag donations while friends and neighbors helped prep them to become the mats. They work every week to keep the project rolling, and to date, have created more than 95 mats that have been distributed to St. Benedict the Moor Parish in Milwaukee for guests in need through the Capuchin Community Services program.

woven mats made from plastic bags

With how successful the project had become, it didn’t take long for the initiative to expand beyond Three Pillars’ campus.

Three Pillars Senior Living Consultant, Lauri Eckmann, mentioned this project to her daughter Rachel Eckmann who wanted to help Lois as well. Rachel, a student at UW-Platteville, brought this project to her school and put up flyers and buckets around campus to collect plastic bags. Another employee, Executive Chef David Simms, worked with Oconomowoc area businesses like Pick ‘n Save to collect donations of unused bags.

At Three Pillars, we not only plan ahead to prevent safety concerns in the design of our buildings and added features, but we partner with our staff and residents to educate them. We work to prevent what we can and ensure we’re all prepared in the case of an unavoidable safety concern.

Today, the teamwork remains strong and the project continues at Three Pillars. As for its future, Lois and Judi are determined to keep going, so if you need them, just follow your ear towards the sound of crinkling bags and friendly conversation drifting down the halls of Three Pillars.

To learn more about life at Three Pillars, join us for an event or contact us for a tour.

Leave a Comment