Chicago group turning plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless

A group of women who meet every week in Hegewisch have plenty to feel good about. They’re helping the environment, and the homeless at the same time, by turning thousands of plastic bags into some comfort for the homeless.

You’ll find the women in the back of Steve’s Lounge at 132nd and Baltimore on the city's far south side every Wednesday afternoon. FOX 32 Chicago watched as about a dozen women turned thousands of plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. 

The group calls themselves BAM, which is short for "Bags and Mats for those in need."

The women started during the pandemic and the group has grown — thanks to Facebook.

The women cut thousands of plastic bags into strips, then tie those strips together. That creates a plastic yarn, or "plarn" as they call it. The plarn is then woven on a wooden loom to create a six-foot long colorful—and surprisingly soft—sleeping mat.

"The first one I made I was so concerned about the colors," said Patti Gibbon, as she demonstrated her weaving technique. "This time I’m taking any of the plarn balls. And whatever it comes out, it comes out."


It takes between 600 and 800 plastic bags to make just one of the sleeping mats, which are then given to people who distribute them to Chicago’s homeless population.

Where do they get all those plastic bags? Many are donated. But sometimes, said volunteer Kathy Graczyk, you gotta' do what you gotta' do. 

"I would go dumpster diving at the grocery," Graczyk explained. "Not in a real dumpster, but in the recycle bins at the grocery store and pull out the bags, which is what we used to make the mats."

Why do they do it? Group founder Shawne Duck said it’s a reflection of the community spirit they were taught when growing up. 

"I think most of us, especially those of us who lived on the southeast side, their parents worked in the mills, dads, brothers, uncles," Duck said. "So people here have a strong appreciation of helping others in need."

So far, the group has woven and distributed about 200 plastic bag sleeping mats to the homeless — and they say they’re only getting started. 

"It continues to grow," said Duck. "And sadly we know there’s always gonna be a need for these mats and the bags. We wish there weren’t, but there is, so we’ll continue to do this."