Volunteers for Community Impact donated waterproof sleeping mats crocheted using plastic bags to the Ocoee Christian Service Center.
OCOEE – Crocheting a large sleeping mat can be labor-intensive, but for 15 to 20 women at the Wayne Densch YMCA in Orlando, the time investment was worth it as long it went toward a good cause.
The women – all of whom were at least 55 years of age – volunteered their time to crochet 21 waterproof sleeping mats using recycled plastic bags with the aid of the organization Volunteers for Community Impact.
So far, eighteen of the mats, which are meant to be used as a cushion between the ground and a sleeping bag, were donated to the Ocoee Christian Service Center located at 300 W. Franklin Street, with three more on the way. Since receiving the mats, the Christian Service Center has gifted five to homeless individuals in the area.
"If we’re giving out bedding, you’d anticipate that there also is a need for the mats,” Rosemary Wilsen, the center’s family emergency services coordinator. “Some of them tell you where they’re sleeping or that they’re homeless and it’s how we determine who needs it. These mats are truly a labor of love and sometimes we just ask if it’s something they could use. But if they are sleeping on the ground, especially given how the weather has been, we’ll give them one.”
The Christian Service Center, which has been in operation for more than 30 years, also provides clothing vouchers, serves free lunches six days a week at its location on Franklin Street, and operates a food pantry and thrift shop that is open to the public. But the individuals who have received sleeping mats from the center have expressed heartwarming gratitude, Wilsen said.
“Oh they’re always very excited,” she said. “They seem very grateful. I always explain what they’re made of so that they understand the real value of the plastic that’s between them and the ground. These mats take quite some time to assemble and it’s gratifying for us to know how excited the person is to get them.”
Michelle Caibio, the RSVP program manager of Volunteers for Community Impact in Orange County, said the mats took a little more than a month to complete – with some volunteers taking them home to work on. The whole idea was brought to the program by a volunteer named Bobbie Yeager, who taught four staff members at Volunteers for Community Impact how to crochet the plastic into large mats.
“And so we were thinking about a project we could take to these women who might not be able to get out and volunteer – as well as which organization we could partner with that would benefit most from these mats – and we thought of Rosemary (Wilsen) because her church already donates some to the center,” Caibio said. “But it’s very labor-intensive, and I think they’ve only done maybe two or three over the past few months. So being able to get her about 20 was a big deal for us – we were really happy we were able to do that.”