A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Boyd County Extension Homemakers give homeless in Northeast Kentucky a warm, dry place to lay


By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky

Numerous homeless in Northeast Kentucky have a warm, dry place to rest, thanks to the efforts of Boyd County Extension Homemakers.

For the past six years, the Extension Homemakers have crocheted sleeping mats for homeless individuals out of plastic grocery bags. The mats warm with body heat, are waterproof and, when woven tight enough, keep mud and ground-dwelling insects away.

The idea started with Barbara Preston, who read about the project in a faith-based publication. A homemaker for 48 years, who has crocheted for even longer, Preston knew this project was something she could do to give back to those in need in her community.

Boyd County Extension Homemaker Debbie Hoback, left, hooks together pieces of plastic bags to make “plarn,” while fellow Extension Homemaker Lana Plymale crochets one of the mats. (Photo by Katie Pratt, UK agricultural communications)

“It’s just something that touched by my heart,” she said. “I felt like God told me this is something you can do. You can help not only the homeless but the environment, because this project keeps plastic bags from being put into landfills.”

With one 3-feet by 6-feet mat taking between 500 and 700 plastic bags and at least 35 hours for an experienced crocheter to complete, the project was a huge undertaking. Preston enlisted the help of her fellow homemakers. A group that averages around 10 homemakers and community volunteers meet for about four hours each Thursday at the Boyd County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service to work on the project. Not all crochet, as the bags have to be flattened, folded, cut and hooked to make the plastic yarn called “plarn.”

Vickie Dunn is a community volunteer, who recently helped with the project for the first time.

“It was an opportunity for me to contribute to the community,” she said. “When I see a homeless person, I’m the one that will stop and give them money, but this a better way of giving. This is something they can have and something that will help them.”

The mat project relies on a number of community partners who donate plastic bags to the Extension Homemakers. These partners include Food Fair, which is a local grocery store, Dollar General and many private citizens.

Since the project began, the Extension Homemakers have donated more than 100 mats to numerous agencies that work with local homeless.

“We have actually had people tell us that they have seen individuals walking along the side of the road carrying our mats,” said Eugenia Wilson, Boyd County family and consumer sciences extension agent. “Our local agencies ask for them and give them away as soon as they get them. I enjoy that I have a group of homemakers that looks to me for guidance and facilitation and actually wants to give back to the community. It is an awesome thing to be a part of.”

UK Cooperative Extension is part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Jointly with its land-grant partner, Kentucky State University, UK Cooperative Extension brings the university to the people in their local communities, addressing issues of importance to all Kentuckians.


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