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A Labor of Love: How Chelsea Retirement Community Residents are Giving Back

Hazel Mead, Life Enrichment Coordinator for Independent Living at Chelsea Retirement Community (CRC), wanted to involve residents in a community project. Then she found an idea on Facebook: crocheting sleeping mats made from plastic shopping bags. It was a perfect fit for CRC’s socially minded residents. Each mat requires 500 to 700 bags, meaning fewer shopping bags in the landfill, and the mats would be used by Detroit’s homeless to provide a protective layer between the cold, damp ground and their sleeping bag.

About 50 residents started the project last March with a goal of making ten mats, each 6’ x 3’ in size. The project soon grew, with the group meeting every week and some even working on the mats in their apartments in the evenings. “The mats were great because they involved residents who could help in a variety of ways,” says Hazel. “In addition to crocheting, people were needed to smooth and cut the bags, tie them into loops, and roll them into balls of ‘plarn’ or plastic yarn. An array of patterns could be made by alternating the colors of the bags.”

The project meant a lot to the residents who participated, including Carol Mills who completed four mats. “It was very satisfying to know that the end result would help someone,” says Carol. CRC neighbors Rose Daub and Rosemary Blakeman also worked on the project. “Rose would hang her finished balls of plarn on my door for me to crochet,” says Rosemary who made three mats. Long-time knitter and centenarian Al Wooll crocheted two mats. “I thought I would be 105 before I finished my first one,” Al jokes.

In June, Hazel and the residents made a road trip to Detroit to deliver twelve mats to the Neighborhood Service Organization’s (NSO) Homeless Recovery Services program, a nonprofit serving homeless men and women. “We were very impressed with the wonderful quality of mats and immediately put them to use,” says NSO Operations Manager James Carey. “It was clear this was a labor of love.”