KILLEEN, Texas — Balls of plarn, made up of plastic bags from Wal-Mart, Target, H-E-B and other area stores here, are unraveled, looped into one stitch after another and crocheted into rows of plastic to create a three-by-six-foot mat.
Although a plastic bag might be used for only a few minutes, the Mad Matters group from nearby Gatesville, Texas, are repurposing thousands of plastic bags, while providing comfort for those experiencing homelessness.
The small group of volunteers is leading an effort to reduce plastic pollution and inspiring area youth from Leon Heights Elementary, Igo Elementary, Jarrell Elementary, Hettie Halstead Elementary, Fairview/Miss Jewell Elementary and Pathways Academic Campus to support their cause. Founded by Gatesville resident Christina Newman, the Gatesville Mad Matters meet weekly at the Gatesville Public Library, and have collectively volunteered more than 3,000 hours to crochet over 300 sleeping mats since the summer of 2020. Thousands of additional volunteer hours have been devoted to the tedious process of prepping the bags to create the plarn.
“After our group started meeting, we created a Facebook page and thought about the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland. When you see the process, it is a mad few hours and so we decided on the name the Mad Matters,” Newman said. “I appreciate what the Cen-Tex Partnership has done in getting this out to the schools and helping us to get bags.”
Liz Reinhardt, Gatesville staff committee member for the Cen-Tex Sustainable Communities Partnership, shared the group’s mission, which led the Cen-Tex Partnership to add a new initiative called Plastics for a Purpose to its Youth Environmental Ambassadors! program.
The YEA! program is a collaborative partnership between the Cen-Tex Partnership and the Fort Hood School Liaison Office Adopt-A-School Program to encourage youth to make a difference within their footprint. YEA! features several initiatives that promote litter prevention, conservation, recycling and beautification within the greater Fort Hood area and across nine school districts.
“Plastics for a Purpose encourages schools to be good stewards of the local environment and community while creating meaningful impacts in the Central Texas region,” Reinhardt said. “Schools from Belton, Jarrell, Copperas Cove and Killeen stepped up to the challenge and their collection efforts diverted more than 500 pounds of plastic bags from the landfill.”
Gladys Harper, counselor for Pathways Academic Campus, further engaged her high school students’ participation by working with Newman to set up a volunteer meet-up at Pathways Academic Campus, located in Killeen. Students gained more insight of how the bags they collected would be repurposed and then helped to flatten, fold and cut plastic bags to create plarns.
“Our students are a part of this community and it is important for them to be involved because this is their home,” Harper said. “They are giving back, creating connections and fostering leadership and responsibility.”
While sorting and flattening the plastic bags, Pathways Academic Campus junior Kahiel Llewellyn-White’s creativity sparked an impromptu musical tune to help with the flow and process.
“This experience was fun and provided me find a clear idea of how to help people who are struggling and who are need of more helpings hands,” he said. “Knowing this is going to a greater cause helping the homeless is really encouraging, and I have the most respect for the Gatesville Mad Matters.”
Kaytlin Frasier, a senior at Pathways Academic Campus, who has been crocheting for about six years, took bags of plarn with a goal of creating a mat herself.
“It’s very heartwarming to know you’re doing good for others who might not have had a good thing happen to them in a long time,” she said.
Harper plans to continue to work with Newman on more crochet sessions and hopes to inspire her students to continue to pay it forward.
“I hope my students learn that even if something seems small it can still make a great impact,” she said. “Having these partnerships helps them make connections with the community, see that there is a greater need and people who are willing to help, as well.”