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Bags to Mats, A Lemons to Lemonade Story – Part 1

Pile of finished mats
Written by Patti Foley

Submitted photos: Esther Darlow

Let’s face it. If you are homeless, a layer of insulation between you and the cold hard wet ground can be a life-changing thing. And thanks to some people who have recognized that they can turn lemons into lemonade this act of human kindness is alive and well.

Bolton’s Esther Darlow and her neighbour Barb Burton are 2 of a group of people who have spent years donating a good chunk of their free time to making mats. Not the fabric variety. Plastic.

Supplies for mat-weaving

Esther and Barb volunteer with MILKBAGSunlimited, an organization that uses specifically milk bags for producing mats. They weave them on a wooden frame that is made to specs. And the end result is a mat that is comfortable, durable, waterproof, and easy to clean.

The spark for the project started at Albion Hills Bible Church about 10 years ago and Angela Kesthely, a member of the church, ended up founding MILKBAGSunlimited. Her friend Bettina Roth handles communications.

It takes a lot of bags to make a mat, about 400 for an adult-sized one in fact, so the group is extremely fortunate to be on the receiving end of “seconds’ that come from a generous manufacturer, to top up what they can collect from the community.

Mat on a frameThe mats are distributed through Mississauga-based charity Canadian Food for Children, and Angela says that virtually all of the mats go overseas. However, she notes, if there is a disaster somewhere mats are sent were needed. They have sent mats to Haiti, Mexico and the Philippines for example.

To date they estimate they have kept over 24 million bags out of landfill through the production of over 42,000 mats.

Typically several schools and seniors homes have been participating as well along with church and social groups. The activity can be shared, with one person cutting the strips and another doing the weaving. And although Covid has brought a temporary halt to weaving in groups, many of the volunteers are still busy producing mats at home.

Ways to help:

  1. Build a frame to the specs found at https://milkbagsunlimited.ca/how-to/ and start weaving. You’ll find an instructional video on the same page.
  1. Collect and donate milk bags, the colourful outer bags only. They must be clean, dried, flattened, and put into photocopy-paper boxes in batches of 500-800, with the quantity written on the box. 
  1. Occasional drivers for pick-ups and deliveries. Email Angela at info@milkbagsunlimited.ca 
  1. Angela crochets purses while watching TV and sells them to raise funds to help cover some of their costs. You can see a selection at https://milkbagsunlimited.ca/products/ 

Drop off locations for bags and finished mats https://milkbagsunlimited.ca/contacts-for-you/

To find out more about MILKBAGSunlimited visit milkbagsunlimited.ca

 

Note: Part 2 of our Bags to Mats story will be published later this week

About the author

Patti Foley

Having spent 25 years in Bolton, Patti remains an advocate for Caledon. As a former Regional Councillor and a long-time community volunteer she is passionate about communicating information about its issues, news, events, people, non-profits and businesses.

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