Sometimes it only takes a second to lose everything. Sometimes it’s gradual. A blink of an eye can erase years of hard work, a home, an income. Sometimes the losing of it all is slow and cycles quietly beneath the surface. We often don’t ask how those changes come about when we see an individual experiencing homelessness. But for some people, it touches a piece of their spirit that makes them want to give back.
Such is the case for Ann Kolasinski. About five years ago, Kolasinski started crafting mats for individuals experiencing homelessness, using plastic bags fashioned into a yarn ball (or “plarn ball,” for those in the know).
“I’m originally from Michigan, and my mom was making hats and scarves for [neighbors in need] and her parish in Auburn Hills, Michigan, so I started doing hats and scarves too,” Kolasinski said. “I saw a thing online, who knows where, about making mats out of plastic bags, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what a neat idea.’ So I looked it up and found out how easy it was to make, and I know how many people [could utilize these], so I started making them about 5 or 6 years ago.”
For someone who’s a novice to the art of crochet, using plastic might not seem like the easiest idea, in terms of the added step of creating a ball of yarn out of plastic bags; however, Kolasinski assures the formation of the yarn ball is the most difficult step, and then it’s all downhill from there.
“It takes 500 to 600 bags to make one mat,” Kolasinski said. “What you do is cut the bottoms and handles off. Then I make three strips out of each bag, and put them together like a chain, until I make a huge ball. Next, I just crochet them.”
Each mat is slightly different from the others, she said, because “people come in all shapes and sizes.” So, some mats are longer than others to accommodate taller individuals. The finished product is about an inch or inch and a half thick, and has a pillow incorporated into it using leftover cuttings. The last step in the process is rolling it up like a mat, and crocheting a bag to go around it so it’s easier to carry.
For Kolasinski, whose husband is a disabled Vietnam veteran, the decision to help out as much as she can is easy. One could easily argue it’s a calling. She steadfastly believes that doing unto others as she would have them do unto her is crucial in this life, and if she has the means to help someone in need by crocheting hundreds of plastic bags together to provide some measure of comfort, then that’s what she’ll do. Her caring heart and understanding nature are seen in her decision to not judge others, but help them.