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Gladstone 'bag ladies' make beds from plastic


by: PHOTO BY: SHAWNA-RAE JOHNSON - The Gladstone Curves 'bag ladies' making a New Year's Day sleeping mat include Marcy Comella (from left), Joanne Comella, Aimee Johnson, Sharon Locey, Giselle Anguiano, Sara Wall, Jody Teetz, Maria Willard, Delphine Busch.With one woman’s startling innovation, a project that started much the same as dozens of other local knitting circles turned into a unique way to help homeless people and reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills at the same time.

First, the familiar setup: A group of 10 ladies gathered on New Year’s Day to knit for charity. Shawna-Rae Johnson, owner the Gladstone/Oak Grove Curves on McLoughlin Boulevard, decided that rather than close like most shops on New Year’s Day, she would open her studio for a community project.

“I wanted to start the New Year doing something for the community, and when I thought about what we could do together, I realized we could get more done in a shorter amount of time,” she said.

But Johnson, 45, had earlier in life been involved with Kenyan missionaries who would help Africans collect plastic bags from junkyards to turn them into useable yarn. It was a project that even the poorest in Africa could engage in, and “plarn” plastic-yarn bags are still available for purchase in Nairobi street markets.

Contrary to popular belief, most plastic bags are not recyclable. Many grocery stores throw away most of the plastic bags that their customers bring in for recycling because the fineness of the plastic gums up the recycling machines.

So 10 Gladstone/Oak Grove residents got together at the Curves studio and spent five hours cutting and then tying used plastic shopping bags together to make balls of plarn to begin their community service project — crocheted sleeping mats for the homeless. They also raised $570 and 39 bags of groceries for Good Roots Community Food Bank.

“The ladies in our club brought their bags in, and this starter group of 10 began the project with great success,” Johnson said. “Now it’s an ongoing project, and we’re now the Gladstone bag ladies.”

Johnson made the local connection to the Kenya project when she was talking with employees at Clackamas County-based My Father’s Heart Street Ministry who said that one of the hardest things to come by was sleeping mats. The ladies plan to give their sleeping mats to Bentley’s Brew & Bistro, which trains homeless people to work in a coffee shop and thrift store, and also offers resume counseling.

They invite anyone in the community who would like to help make sleeping mats for the homeless to join their group that will meet about once a month for group bag-prep, but supplies are always available.

“If people know how to crochet, then they can come here and get some plastic and make a grannie square, and if you don’t know how to crochet, then I’ll teach you,” Johnson said.

Multiple people can each make approximately 6-by-8-inch grannie squares in a process that would take many days to produce one sleeping mat. Johnson has already produced one mat from stiched-together grannie squares.

Call Johnson, 503-653-2500, for more information about the program or to get involved.