FREDERICK, MD - Crocheting creates fabric by interlocking loops of yarn or thread that can turn into scarves and hats and ponchos. The handicraft also can be used to turn plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats. In Frederick, Maryland, a group of women are using their crochet hooks to help the homeless in their city be a bit more comfortable. 

The power of crocheting

Kaitlin Barker is one of the youngest members of Women of the Moose, Chapter 347, a community service organization in Frederick, Maryland. Her favorite hobby is crocheting. And that has become the group project.

“I wanted to start a fundraiser of crocheting scarves and hats to raise money for the organization," she said. "That’s what we do at the Moose.

But instead of crocheting scarves and hats, her mother, a board member of the group, suggested they make mats for the homeless. Rather than buying yarn, they decided to recycle plastic bags for the project. 

But that turned out to be more difficult than they first thought. “I’ve dealt with really thin yarn, and really thick yarn, but this is a completely different material,” Barker explained. “It breaks, it bends, it stretches [and] it doesn’t go back. So it was difficult to get started. I think that first mat I actually did probably took me 40 to 50 hours of just crocheting. I was just trying to get the rhythm of crocheting this odd material.”

Mastering bag crocheting

Now, almost a year later — she's cut her mat crochet time in half to about 20 hours.

Each member has a role in this project.The process starts with collecting used plastic bags, about 700 of them for each mat.

Then, Barker says, they separate them into piles of like colors. “So, we can make a white mat, a gray mat, a brown mat, a blue mat, whatever the other colors we may get also.They take the bags, they flatten it out, form a stack. We cut off these seams. We cut off the handles and we cut into strips so they continue as loops. We loop them together. We make a long string of yarn that we’re able to get the yarn to crochet it.”

Men and Women of the moose

Kaitlin’s mother, Maureen Barker, says the mats are just one of the group's projects. “A lot of the fundraisings that we do, we give money to the local organizations to use it as they wish. We donate to local organizations. Then, the rest of the money we raise does go to Mooseheart and Moosehaven." 

Mooseheart is a residential facility run by the Loyal Order of Moose, for children and teens in need, from infancy through high school. Moosehaven is a retirement community for members of the organization. 

Founded in 1888 — first as an all-men's group — today there are Moose chapters in all 50 states and around the world. 

“Women came on board just sporadic,” Maureen Barker explained. “We’re basically an auxiliary of the men. We’re very lucky here at the Frederick Lodge, where men and women work very well together. They [men] allow us to use their facilities for our fundraisers and projects, like this, so we’re able to give back to the community, and they do as well.”

Joining this crocheting project, she says, has been a heart-warming experience. “We joke around, we have fun, but we do good at the same time.”

Need it and love it

The mats have been donated to the Religious Coalition for Emergency Human Needs, a homeless shelter that provides services, meals and overnight stays. Spokesperson Brenda Bell says the mats were given to the homeless who prefer sleeping on the street to staying overnight in the facility.

“We have rules and some of them don’t particularly like coming in, going to bed at ten o’clock, that’s when they have to go to bed at ten or they don’t want to be out as early as seven,” Bell said. “So a lot of them just prefer to stay out.”

And the mats make it easier. Bell points out, “They’re very comfortable. They keep them warm. They’re cushiony. They can wrap them up and take them with them during the day because they have straps on them to roll them up and put them on the back.”

Encouraged by the positive feedback, the Women of the Moose are continuing to help the environment and the homeless.