Panora Specialty Care resident turns old plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless

Panorama students spend afternoon helping with the project

A project of a resident at Panora Specialty Care will allow homeless people to sleep a little more comfortably while also finding another use for old plastic shopping bags. 

Kim Van Rheenen, a native of Osklaloosa, who moved to Panora Specialty Care over a year ago after suffering a stroke, has been crocheting for years. A friend of hers told her about others who were converting plastic shopping bags into sleeping mats, so she went online to research, and then taught herself. 

“I still have a few kinds to work out,” Van Rheenen said. 

Members of the community have been donating plastic bags for the project as Van Rheenen, 59, says it takes about 600 bags to make one mat. 

She first flattens the bags and then cuts them into strips. She makes a slip knot out of them, finds an end and begins crocheting them together. Most of her free time is spent on the colorful mats, Van Rheenen said. 

“It’s something to do when I’m watching TV,” she said.

Van Rheenen is donating the mats to the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy in Des Moines. She called several places before finding one that could use them. 

“I told them I’d give them as many as I can make,” she said. 

Kati Scheuermann, a PSA at Panora Specialty Care, and her son Conner Christensen, delivered five of them for Van Rheenen last week. Students from Carla Church’s Talented and Gifted class at Panorama joined Van Rheenen to help with her project last week. Fourth-graders Arilyan Steenblock, Will Knapp, Emme Hardisty and Noah Poldberg were excited to help with the project, a culminating activity with their Random Acts of Kindness Week. 

Church said the elementary students were intrigued by how many hours it takes Van Rheenen to make one mat, and equally impressed with how she creates them. The students were surprised how much the plastic mats look like real blankets. 

“They thought they would like more like weaving, but they looked more like somebody wrapped them in tight circles,” Church said. 

The students are collecting bags for Van Rheenen at the elementary school, so anyone is welcome to drop bags by. Van Rheene said she enjoyed the help from the students, and welcomes anyone who would like to learn how to crochet them to join her. She has gotten other residents at Panora Specialty Care involved in the project, too.

“It’s become an activity here,” said Scheuermann. “They all seem to enjoy it.

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