By ANDREW HANSEN
It’s a cold night in Decatur. For those who are living on the streets and cannot find a roof over their head this night, some turn to something else to keep them warm or something soft to sleep on. What they have is made from plastic bags, but not just a few bags, but 700 bags. Most importantly, it’s made with love and compassion, telling the homeless that people do care about them.
Ed and Pat Cirks of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish in Mt. Zion started Mats for the Homeless in 2016. Using their time and talent, the married couple have about 20 people helping now and have recruited about 100 people over the years to take on an intricate and time-consuming ministry, but one that has a big impact and embodies the Gospel message of helping strangers in need.
Here’s how it works: The group collects plastic bags then flattens them, cuts them into three-inch strips, loops the strips into balls, and then crochets it all together into a 3 feet by 6 feet sleeping mat, which can be used as a cushion to sleep on or as a blanket.
“We feel that we are providing some comfort to the poorest of the poor,” Pat Cirks said. “We feel that our time is well spent doing this ministry.”
Each mat of 700 plastic bags takes 40 hours to complete. The group of volunteers will meet typically on a Monday to process everything at the parish and the crocheting is done in each person’s homes. So far, the ministry has made 770 mats for the homeless, which means they have not only helped provide comfort to so many but have helped reuse 539,000 plastic bags.
Cirks is also pleased to see more people in the community getting involved. This summer, several young girls set up a lemonade stand to raise money for the ministry to buy cutters, rulers, quilting mats, and safety handles.
“Our equipment was getting rundown, especially our blades,” Cirks said.
The girls raised $280. Cirks says any money that is left over will be used by the ministry to purchase towels and winter clothing.
“We desperately need crocheters,” Cirks said as the demand for these mats continues to be there. That also includes plastic bags people can collect and drop off.
“We have collection boxes for plastic bags at Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Mt. Zion, St. Isidore Parish in Bethany, and the VFW Post 99 in Decatur,” Cirks said. “We deliver the mats to VFW POST 99, Oasis Day Center, The Salvation Army Men’s Homeless Shelter, Northeast Community Fund, Good Samaritan Inn, and Dove.”
Editor’s Note: If you are interested in volunteering to be a crocheter, please contact the Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish office in Mt. Zion at (217) 864-3467.