Four women gathered around a card table at a retirement community’s clubhouse in Taneytown on Wednesday, Feb. 13, intently sorting through a mountain of plastic grocery bags.
“When I started this, I didn’t think I would become a connoisseur of bags,” said Sharon Schaeffer, a Taneytown resident.
Schaeffer is part of the group, composed of a handful of women who call themselves the “Bag Ladies,” started by Carroll Vista resident Rosemary Orner in October 2016.
Sorting is just the first step in transforming the recycled grocery bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. After the women sort, they fold. Then they cut strips, knot the strands together and form a roll of plastic string — like a ball of yarn.
Considering the mats are made exclusively from plastic, “they can be outside and get wet and they won’t get yucky,” Schaeffer said.
“Crochet is hard on your wrists,” said JoAnne Ward, who joined the group last year after retiring.
“And your shoulders,” added Sue Morris, a member from the start.
Thankfully, Ward brought new ideas to the group. She only had experience knitting, but looked up how to weave using a loom on YouTube. Ward’s brother made the women half a dozen wood-peg looms.
Ward and Schaeffer have become the designated weavers. After the women meet each Wednesday morning, the two weavers leave with containers of balled-up plastic string. At home they load the looms and weave the grocery bag remnants into 6-foot-long, 4-foot-wide sleeping mats.
Meadows said the mats have a profound effect, beyond keeping the people that opt not to sleep in the Carroll County Cold Weather Shelter warm during the winter.
“I can tell you from conversations with folks that are distributing them,” Meadows said, “folks [that receive mats] are quite moved because of the amount of work somebody put into making these on their behalf.”
And there might be more sleeping mats to come, as the Bag Ladies have yet to achieve maximum productivity with only two of five currently doing the weaving.
“We’re going to have Looming 101 at some point,” Ward explained.
Schaeffer, who has experience weaving baskets, and Ward have become consummate weaving pros. Both like to watch movies or television programs while working their looms.
“Sharon’s woven one in two movies,” Ward said, lauding Schaeffer’s speed.
The prep work — folding, cutting, stringing and rolling — is a complete team effort. The women consider it all: the width of the strands of plastic bag, which translates to the thickness of the mat, the quality of the plastic and colors.
“When [a bag] crunches,” Schaeffer said, “it’s too stiff and too hard.”
“I wouldn’t want to lay my head on that,” Ward added.
The ladies consider color patterns as they string the plastics together.