George rolls over on the cold concrete, wrapping his shabby coat and a ragged blanket tighter around him. It is winter in Bismarck, North Dakota, and no one knows this more acutely than the homeless. The shelters around the city fill up with those who want a good meal and need a little extra care. Some people prefer to live in an unrestricted environment (meaning without four walls around them), but most are at the mercies of their circumstances and any benefactors.
North Dakota has an estimated 541 people experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of that total, 54 were family households, 49 were veterans, 35 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18-24), and 92 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness.*
Those statistics don’t really matter to George. He is more conscience of the cold seeping through his bones and the hard concrete on which he lays. There is a way to give this man and others in this same predicament a little more comfort and the Bismarck Adventist Church is doing just that.
In an on-going project, members and friends of the church have systematically been collecting plastic bags from various stores. About once per quarter,
15 to 20 people meet after potluck to shake out bags, fold, and cut them into loops. At the second stage of this assembly line, the loops are daisy-chained into a long “rope” of plarn. Plarn is the contraction of the two words: plastic and yarn. At the third stage of the line, those who know how to crochet begin weaving the plarn into a sleeping mat. Each mat requires 500 – 700 plastic bags! The finished mat, approximately three feet wide and six feet long, consumes about 30 hours of labor.
In November of 2021 and again in February of 2022, many people met to work the bags into sleeping mats, or at least prepare the plarn for those who will crochet. The work cannot be completed in one afternoon, so many industrious crafters take bags, plarn, and their crochet hooks home to keep the work going. One Sabbath school room is designated to hold the bags so people can continue to work through the months preparing plarn for those who crochet.
Once the sleeping mats are complete, the community services director takes them to Ministry on the Margins, which is only a few blocks away. The Bismarck Church investigated the needs in their community and decided not to “reinvent the wheel,” but to come along side well established organizations and learn through experience how to best help the homeless. Jessica Eberhardt, Bismarck Adventist Church member, met with the Ministry on the Margins director to gather information on how to help them. This idea was one of the first mentioned.
George will now be able to sleep on a small, cushioned mat that will hinder moisture and cold while offering some extra comfort over the freezing concrete. “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done” (Proverbs 19:17).
Reese Saxon is a member of the Bismarck Seventh-day Adventist Church.
*United States Interagency on Homelessness, 01-2020. https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/nd/