Cathy Kruse and friends from Harvestfield Church played teacher Thursday morning at Hokes Bluff Middle School, instructing some eager students to take something that typically ends up in the trash and make a sorely needed item for Gadsden’s homeless population.
For years now, Kruse, Paula Wood, Jan Bonka and others have met almost every Wednesday to create plastic mats that they give to homeless people. The mats are made from plastic shopping bags — the kind of thing many people throw away (or store inside another plastic bag somewhere in their home).
It’s a laborious process, but the women take the bags, cut them into strips that are tied together to make “plarn,” then crocheted into the mats.
For people without shelter, the mats can at least put something between them and the ground, or a hard surface.
They took time this week to instruct some of the students from HBMS’s Eagle Interest classes in how to perform the needed prep work for making mats, and how to crochet the plarn into a place of rest for someone in need.
Teachers Nicki Busch and Melissa Marsh were excited about sharing this activity with their students.
Busch said they’d been collecting bags for some time to get ready, pointing out bags of bags scattered around her classroom.
There couldn’t be a more timely time to talk about the needs of homeless people in the Gadsden area.
Temperatures were predicted to drop Friday, and by Monday the nighttime low is forecast at 32 degrees. The forecast low for Tuesday is 19 degrees, and while it the lows won’t dip that far for the rest of the week, the numbers could drop below or around the freezing mark through Friday.
The Gadsden/Etowah County Emergency Management Agency is monitoring the forecast to determine whether or when warming stations might be needed to provide help for those who need a warm place to go.
And that’s more people than you’d think, according City of Gadsden Community Development Planner Renee Baker.
The city will participate in a homeless count in January, she said, for a four-county area: Etowah, DeKalb, Cherokee and Calhoun counties. Last year, the count was 267 homeless people, with about half from Etowah and half from Calhoun County.
“We know that’s not a true number,” Baker said. “We know the true numbers are about three times that many.”
She said there was a large influx of homeless people in the Gadsden area last summer. The Salvation Army location in Calhoun County closed, and there are no shelters operating now in DeKalb and Cherokee.
Homeless people make their way to Gadsden, where there is a Salvation Army shelter and some other shelters, and more resources to help.
There are people who can’t stay in shelters, however. Baker said the Salvation Army requires a state-issued ID, and some people don’t have one. Sometimes there are other issues that keep people out of existing shelters.
When the city opens warming centers, Elliott Community Center usually is the first. Baker said some homeless people spend time there anyway, and the Gadsden Public Library graciously allows people to come inside the library for shelter during the day.
There are great agencies to help, Baker said, and a number of churches and groups that help the homeless.
Harvestfield Church is one of those. In addition to the mats, Kruse and young volunteers from the church put scarves, gloves and other cold-weather gear around town in locations where people who need them are likely to find them, with tags explaining “I’m not lost,” so people will know they are welcome to take them.
Busch said she learned of Kruse’s crochet group from a friend, Andy Minton, who does homeless ministry. She wanted to bring those good lessons about touching the lives of others to her students.
“We need to teach our children to give back to the community,” she said.
While they might not all be able to master crocheting the mats, she said, “We can cut up bags.”
Marsh said the students from her class were excited about learning to make mats.
“And they are workers,” she said. “Everybody likes to have an opportunity to help.”
“Ms. Marsh, I love this,” eighth-grader Peyton Ward said.
“After you get the hang of it, it’s so much fun,” seventh-grader Anna Lee said.
Marsh said she was telling her mom what the class was doing, and she expressed interest in learning, too. She said perhaps Kruse’s group could instruct her mom’s group at church, and increase this particular ministry.
Busch said two people — two people she didn’t know, who are not even from the Hokes Bluff area — donated large crochet hooks for the students to use.
“I put something about it on Facebook,” Busch said, and the donors ordered the crochet hooks from Amazon and had then sent to the class.
“It was amazing,” she said. “You put it out there and God takes care of the rest.”