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Plastic bags bless the homeless in the Bakken and beyond

If you are a homeless person sleeping outside on the ground during winter, a blanket barely masks the frigid cold pressed against your body. The goal is to find something to lay on top of that puts an insulated barrier between you and the ground.

A group of women in Washburn, North Dakota discovered a cheap and innovative solution. It all started in the winter of 2015 when Hights visited her family in San Diego "My grandkids invited me to their youth group where they making the mats and pillows," described Hights. "They knew I was a crafter and quilter. I went and within 30 minutes I was hooked. What I saw was so neat."

Hights returned to North Dakota with hope and passion to make mats and pillows for those who were homeless in her area by using "plastic bags." Western North Dakota is home to the Bakken Oil Rush where people are struggling with housing and basic needs.

"This is God's project," said Peggy Hights, the group leader and member of Washburn United Methodist Church. "The oil boom in North Dakota has created an increase in the homeless.This is one way we can help."

"I wanted to start making the mats," said Hights. "I thought--no way are people going to show up to do this. I decided all I have to do is show up, that is what God wanted me to do. I have been showing up and so have others. It is going great."

Each Wednesday four to fifteen women show up at Washburn UMC. They cut bags into lengthwise strips, then loop the strips together on a loom. The loom is 3 feet wide and 6 feet long with dowels or pegs that provide a weaving guide. It takes 2,000 bags to make one mat. The group can make up to four mats in one night because they have four looms. They also make pillows from the scraps of the bags that are cut up.   

"Making the mats is easy. My grandkids ages 6 and 9 help. They love it," said Hights.

Heights has begun to train other groups in nearby communities in mat making and the sleeping mats and pillows are distributed through the Salvation Army in Williston. The agency serves as a resource center for the homeless.  (Click here to read a recent article by the Salvation Army).

A group at the Airforce Base in Minot has begun making mats with the guidance of Hights. The Minot Air Force medical unit actually held a competition to see who could collect the most bags and make the most mats. "I was worried that they might need bags in Minot to get started. There was no need to worry. The competition brought in over 25,000 bags," said Hights. Peggy has also worked with a middle school in Minot, making the mats as an activity during an afterschool program.

Each mat is wrapped in a bundle with a braided rope and includes a care package with items like soap, shampoo, razors, toothpaste and a toothbrush. 

Sometimes providing a solution for those in need is easier than one would realize. If God can use plastic bags to provide rest, comfort and healing, what is at your fingertips that you can use to make a difference?

Dakotas Annual Conference website

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