Project provides holiday warmth

Penticton students weaving plastic bags into sleeping mats to be distributed to the homeless

A project that started last year to provide warm sleeping mats to the homeless and needy is continuing this year, thanks to the efforts and dedication of a group of students from Penticton Secondary.

Last year, Ashley Aoki started a project of weaving discarded plastic bags into sleeping mats, which were then distributed in Penticton and on East Hastings in Vancouver.

Aoki graduated in June, but before she did, she passed the project on to Jolene Hayter, Kimberley Swaney and a group of students.

Besides making the blankets after school, she also decided to do the warm clothing drive again, figuring the two projects would mesh well. So this year, the students are bundling the woven plastic mats with warm clothing, blankets or other winter essentials.

“We bundle them up and tie them … the plastic sleeping mat with a jacket and a pair of mittens or some socks or a sweater, just some warm clothing they can put on when they are walking around.” said Swaney.

They’re collecting clothing donations until Friday at Cherry Lane shopping centre, with a drop-off bin next to Santa’s castle.

The crew weaving the blankets has grown as well, said Swaney. From the four or five people that were helping Aoki out last year, there are now about 10 regulars.

“There are usually three or four people helping and it takes half an hour, maybe 45 minutes,” said Swaney, describing the mat-weaving process, which can take up to 400 bags. “We have people always dropping bags off at the school or we get donations. All the parents involved save their extra plastic bags and stuff.”

This year, they are hoping to distribute the bags through the Cold Snap Inn and the Soupateria, where Swaney also volunteers. Unlike East Hastings in Vancouver, she said, the homeless and needy in Penticton aren’t as visible.

“I was going to do it before we serve them lunch. I figured that would be the best place to hand them out,” said Swaney. “I see people at the Soupateria and think, ‘You could use a new winter jacket.’ It would be nice to give them the clothing and the mats.”

Swaney said her personal drive to help this way stems from a mission trip to Vancouver, when she spent two weeks serving the homeless on East Hastings.

“I thought this would be a good way to continue the fire of helping these people. It kind of grew into a passion,” she said.

The graduating students are already making plans for helping the mat-weaving project continue.

“Next year when all of us graduate, were going to pass it on to the younger ones that are in the group right now,” said Swaney.


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