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DANVILLE — Members of the Order of the Eastern Star Iris Chapter in Danville are doing their part to help the environment and those who might find it as their only shelter.

Five of the club’s members have been taking time out of their mornings to create sleeping mats for the homeless out of plastic shopping bags.

According to Sonna Ellis, the chapter’s associate matron, the idea came from Mary Ann Peterson of Bloomingdale, committee chairwoman of the Yorkville Chapter. Ellis and others decided to try it out in Danville.

Ellis said it takes 800 to 900 plastic shopping bags — and somewhere between 80 to 90 hours — to make one sleeping mat.

To acquire so many bags, Ellis and the team go out to local grocery stores and look to see if there are any bags that may have been put out to be recycled or if they have any to donate. Each member also collects as many as they can when they do their regular shopping. To Ellis, it is a community effort.

There is a long process to make each of the mats. Once the right number of plastic bags is acquired, they are straightened, and the handles and bottoms are cut off. From there, each bag is cut into 2-inch strips that are interlaced to form a chain. The chain is then rolled into a ball, much like yarn. Then, the plastic chains are crocheted together. It is then that the sleeping mats start to take form.

Once the mats are completed, Ellis said they are handed out to those in need and to a homeless shelter.

Ellis pointed out multiple benefits with the mats. Since they are made of plastic, they are waterproof and lightweight. Ellis also noted how the effort helps the environment, since they are finding a new use for bags that may have otherwise wound up in a landfill. And it will also help keep Danville clean, she said.

“You always see bags laying on the ground when it is cold or damp, or stuck in a tree branch, trying to get free with the wind,” she said. “Hopefully through our efforts, we get to see less of that.”

The Order of the Eastern Star is a chapter-based, charitable fraternity that helps those in need through, but not limited to, donations to medical research, scholarships and housing.

As demanding as it may seem to collect the bags, create the mats and distribute them, Ellis said it's not difficult.

“I have a joy working on them,” she said. “There’s always talking, and every time at 12:30 p.m., we go out to lunch, so it is always a good time.”