Mission to help homeless comes to St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 15, 2019

 Laila Abro, of Warren, makes plarn out of plastic bags at the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center March 8.

Laila Abro, of Warren, makes plarn out of plastic bags at the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center March 8.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

 Kelli Lipinski and Jennifer Monday, both of St. Clair Shores, cut plastic bags to be recycled into plarn for the mats being made for the homeless by the Motor City Mitten Mission.

Kelli Lipinski and Jennifer Monday, both of St. Clair Shores, cut plastic bags to be recycled into plarn for the mats being made for the homeless by the Motor City Mitten Mission.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

 Motor City Mitten Mission Executive Director Gail Marlow, of St. Clair Shores, demonstrates how to make plarn out of strips made from plastic bags.

Motor City Mitten Mission Executive Director Gail Marlow, of St. Clair Shores, demonstrates how to make plarn out of strips made from plastic bags.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

ST. CLAIR SHORES — It’s something one might expect to see at a senior center — dozens of people sitting around, crocheting.

But these women and men weren’t using regular yarn, and they weren’t knitting booties for babies.

The Motor City Mitten Mission came to the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center March 8 to teach those interested how to create and work with plarn — plastic yarn made from plastic shopping bags — to be crocheted into sleeping mats and pillows for the homeless.

The Motor City Mitten Mission is a nonprofit organization that creates and distributes the mats, pillows and other supplies to those living on the streets across metro Detroit. It began on Christmas Day 2017, achieving nonprofit status in January 2018.

Executive Director Gail Marlow lives in St. Clair Shores and said that she had been working with a community kitchen, but she was inspired to start the organization because she wanted to have a direct impact on the homeless.

“I really wanted to affect people directly living in the street,” she said.

Crocheting mats and pillows out of plastic shopping bags is not new, she said; many organizations create the sleeping mats to give away to those who come to churches or shelters.

What makes the Motor City Mitten Mission different, she said, is the outreach.

“It’s a very humbling experience. It changes you ... seeing somebody actually sleeping (in the streets),” she said.

Marlow said that the organization has distributed more than 400 mats over the course of the past year, recycling over 1 million plastic bags to do so.

“It’s a whole process,” she said.

Marlow said that she came to have volunteers cutting strips of plastic bags to create plarn at the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center through City Councilwoman Candice Rusie, who first came to a “plarn party” with her sister.

Volunteers create the plarn — plastic yarn — needed to crochet the mats and pillows by folding a plastic bag in quarters, length-wise, then removing the handles and the bottom. Those strips are then folded and cut to make loops, which are connected using slipknots into a length of plarn. Nothing is wasted, so the handles and bottoms of the bag are set aside and used later to stuff the pillows.

The beauty of the mats is that they are waterproof, bug resistant, and provide insulation from the cold cement, Marlow said.

“It really is a great protection between the body and the ground,” she said.

The Motor City Mitten Mission is working with students in more than 60 schools, along with business organizations and churches across Michigan and in Canada.

“We help everybody,” Marlow said. “Our hope is to get other communities all set up to work with their own shelters.”

In addition to the mats, the organization distributes survival backpacks with coats, boots, hats, gloves, and hygiene and toiletry items.

“I’m like Santa Claus on the street for some people,” Marlow said. “We also provide meals.”

Diane Ellis, of Roseville, said that when she first heard of the Motor City Mitten Mission, she “jumped right in.”

“You’re doing something productive and worthwhile,” she said. “This is absolutely fantastic.”

“It takes a village. There’s so many homeless people,” said Debbie Marshall, of Roseville.

The Motor City Mitten Mission will be coming to the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center, 20100 Stephens St., every Friday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

It’s a perfect fit for the center, said Director Carly Podzikowski.

“They are so generous with their time. We have so many volunteers, and half the time we don’t know what to do with them, so this is a really great way for people to, A, learn a new skill, B, be social, and help the homeless,” she said. “It’s a win all around.”

For more information, visit motorcitymittenmission.org. The organization accepts donations of hats, gloves, boots, hygiene kits and food, as well.

To contact the Senior Activity Center, call (586) 445-0996.