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Love is In the Bags

Featured Photo from Love is In the Bags

Inside The Springs, residents are putting their old grocery bags to good use to help the homeless and protect the Earth

We all have them shoved into drawers. Stuffed into one another, hanging on a doorknob somewhere. Even lurking under the seats of our cars. 

They are, of course, venerable plastic grocery bags.

But the bags can be so much more. In fact, the skill of cutting plastic shopping bags and weaving them into something useful – like sleeping mats for the homeless – is a trend that’s caught on in Central Florida. It’s bringing people together, especially in The Springs community in Longwood.

The Springs resident Donna Smith calls it not only a win-win situation, but a “win-win-win,” as the plastic is recycled, the mats benefit the homeless, and the plastic stays out of local waterways. Donna has even been profiled by local TV news as an Everyday Hero for her efforts to teach the bag-cutting-and-weaving process to local groups and gatherings. 

“It helps me leave less of a footprint on this world,” says Donna, who is maximizing her impact by teaching others to do the same, all while giving some comfort to those who may be sleeping outside. 

The environmental impact of plastic equally motivates her. 

Donna is quick to reference a widely reported news story about a whale that washed ashore in the Philippines with 88 pounds of plastic in its belly. What’s more, a study cited in a recent news article reveals the average household throws away 10 plastic bags a week.

“We’ve got to do something,” Donna says. “Every little bit helps.” 

Weaving Community

Donna learned how to weave the sleeping mats at a women’s fellowship craft gathering at The Salvation Army in Orlando. She brought the practice back to The Springs, where she coordinates with a local pizza shop to keep weavers fed while they work.

Class participants often show up with bags to donate. Donna says it takes about 600 bags to make a slightly-larger-than-twin-sized sleeping mat. The process involves some folks cutting the handles and bottoms off the bags, others weaving, and everyone chatting as they work. One recent mat-weaving session was completely full.

Ian Barnes is a resident of The Springs who has worked as a naturalist educator and as an environmental seismic consultant. He has seen pollution in waterways firsthand – in places like Africa and the Gulf of Mexico – working offshore in the petroleum industry. 

“The amount of pollution is staggering,” Ian says.

He learned about the weaving sessions, as most of the attendees do, on The Springs Facebook page and will likely teach others how to make mats now, too. 

Lenora Sherman, business manager at The Salvation Army Orlando Metropolitan Area Command, also joined the mat-making festivities. 

“It’s my first time weaving, but it’s easy to pick up,” she says. “It’s just like learning to braid hair.”

When the mats are completed, Lenora helps with their distribution to homeless clients throughout Central Florida.

Kathy Mills of The Springs started as a cutter and graduated into the weaving stage of mat making. Her husband is a veteran, and she hopes the mats can help veterans without homes.

“I end up with so many bags,” Kathy says. “When I saw this, I said, ‘Oh, I need to do that.’”

As for Donna, she will continue to offer classes at various venues, but it’s not the only way she spreads cheer throughout the community. As the longtime Mrs. Claus to her husband Lowell’s Santa at the annual Longwood Christmas parade, Donna knows how to give back. The mats are just one more way.

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