On a ‘mission’ at North High School

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 13, 2018

 From left, Motor City Mitten Mission co-founder Gail Marlow; North juniors Troy Herd, Rachel Sexton and Joe Ayrault; and Motor City Mitten Mission co-founder Sophan Buffa and her daughter, Margaret, 1, display the items made through the Mats and Pillow Project.

From left, Motor City Mitten Mission co-founder Gail Marlow; North juniors Troy Herd, Rachel Sexton and Joe Ayrault; and Motor City Mitten Mission co-founder Sophan Buffa and her daughter, Margaret, 1, display the items made through the Mats and Pillow Project.

Photo by Maria Allard

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The crowd that gathered inside Grosse Pointe North High School’s student-run school store the morning of Feb. 8 was on a mission.

Last Thursday, members of the Motor City Mitten Mission and athletes from the North boys and girls varsity basketball teams met up to make mat blankets and pillows out of plastic bags for the mission’s Mat and Pillow Project. Once completed, the items will be distributed to local homeless individuals who live on the streets. The blankets are designed to provide them warmth and comfort when it’s cold and snowy outside.

Through a seven-step process, the mats and pillows are made of recycled plastic bags. In the beginning stages, the bags are collected, flattened and counted. From there, the bags are folded, cut and created and knotted into balls of plastic yarn known as plarn. When that is completed, the plarn is crocheted into the mat and pillow with a tie and strap.

The mat blankets are 6 feet long and 2 1/2 to 3 feet wide. Each blanket can be rolled up, and the strap allows the items to be carried as a duffel bag. When volunteers get together to make the items, they refer to the working area as the “Plarn Farm.”

According to Mission organizers, the mats and pillows are ideal for harsh Michigan elements because they are comfortable and create a barrier between the ground and the body to help retain body heat while sleeping. If a mat gets wet, it can easily be dried, and when it gets dirty, it can be hosed off and shaken out.

The Motor City Mitten Mission — in the process of obtaining nonprofit status — was co-founded by Grosse Pointe Park residents Gail Marlow and Sophan Buffa last year. Buffa began making the plarn blankets out of her home. She and Marlow connected through a swap page on Facebook, and they decided to start the Motor City Mitten Mission. First Responders 4 Fitness is the financial sponsor of the Motor City Mitten Mission.

Marlow is a 1991 North graduate and the Motor City Mitten Mission executive director. While in high school, she was active in athletics, drama and choir, and served as class president. She also found that she liked getting involved to help others.

“All my volunteering started here,” she said.

Buffa, who is originally from Windsor and teaches a kindergarten/first-grade split class there, also holds a plarn party across the Detroit River in Windsor once a month. Buffa said the group was planning to make more blankets at Trombly Elementary School during the afternoon of Feb. 8.

Marlow’s sister, Cindy Stevens, a teacher at North Branch High School, attended last week’s volunteer session with students from her school. Marlow’s mom, Shirley Marlow, also stopped by to volunteer. Marlow said that one program goal is to create job opportunities for others — primarily retired, disabled and low-income individuals.

“We want to employ people to help us make them,” Marlow said.

North senior Josie Ciaravino was among the students who viewed the tutorial and made blankets last Thursday.

“I am really enjoying it,” she said. “It’s really fun learning how to do all this. You have to flatten out the bags and make 20 in a stack to make the plarn. You have to make sure they are in a straight line and then loop them to each other.”

North Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Michelle Davis said the school’s athletes participate in various community service projects, including volunteering at Gleaners Community Food Bank and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

“Every year, the students do something,” Davis said. “Most of them feel very fortunate, and I think the opportunity to give back is important to them.”

The office of the Motor City Mitten Mission is located at 15318 Mack Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays. The goal is to expand the days and hours in the future.

To participate in making mats, pillows and other plarn items; to donate materials; or to set up a training at an organization, business, church or school, call (586) 343-8974 or email motorcitymittenmission@gmail.com. For more information, visit www.motorcitymittenmission.org.
The organization also is on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, and it has videos posted on YouTube.