Community: New Life for Old Bags

Posted by Smita Kishore on

I've had the pleasure of volunteering with New Life for Old Bags and getting to know the wonderful volunteers behind this organization over the past couple of years. With Earth Day around the corner, I wanted to highlight their work and share some fun ways you can get involved to help reduce plastic waste.

Who They Are

New Life for Old Bags (NLOB) is a collaboration of individuals of all ages and abilities who make sleeping mats for the homeless out of used plastic bags. NLOB began as a way to engage residents of Bethesda Rehab & Senior Care by Ruth Werstler, who wanted to help the less fortunate and the environment. 

Each sleeping mat requires approximately 80 hours to make and can use up to 500-700 plastic bags—that's a lot of bags! The mats are made of plastic yarn (plarn) using a large crochet hook. The finished mats are then distributed to the homeless by Cornerstone Community Outreach in Uptown and other partners of NLOB.

Why I Love Them

  • 100% Volunteer-Run. NLOB is fully run and funded by volunteers throughout the community. Most mats are crocheted by senior citizens, so it's not only great for maintaining cognition and fine motor skills as people age, it also provides them the opportunity to engage and assist others, which from my experience working in nursing homes, brings better health than any medication can provide.
  • Everyone Can Participate. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, an experienced crocheter or a novice, there is a way for everyone to help. Kids as young as second grade can help separate plastic bags by color and cut them into strips, while senior citizens (some even over 100!) crochet the mats. Most importantly, it's an activity that families and communities can do together that benefits those in need. 
  • Solves Multiple Problems.
    • Provides engaging, meaningful activities for children, senior citizens, and local communities.
    • The mats are lightweight, dry easily, and bring comfort to people living in the cold, often wet, Chicago streets.
    • Hundreds of thousands of plastic bags have been diverted from landfills and oceans, not only protecting the environment but also precious marine life. 
  • Truly Eco-Friendly. While NLOB is happy to crochet and divert these bags from our oceans, you'll hear them say at every event that the ultimate goal is for a decreased dependence on plastic bags. As of April 3rd, 2018, 8 years after their conception, New Life for Old Bags has repurposed about 2,879,800 plastic bags, provided 4,114 sleeping mats to the homeless, and clocked in over 320,000 volunteer hours. That's pretty amazing if you ask me! 



    How You Can Help

    • Make Your Own! Whether it's collecting bags and cutting them into strips to create plarn or using your crocheting skills to make a mat, any bit you can do goes a long way. Plus, it's a great activity to do with the kids or to bring your family and neighbors together. Click here for step-by-step instructions. Trust me, it's easier than it sounds!
    • Volunteer at a Workday. They offer several locations throughout the Chicagoland area, including 3 Chicago locations, as well as Schaumburg, Plano, and Plainfield. Here's their full schedule with time and location details. 
    • Donate. As NLOB is completely volunteer-run, they rely on donations to continue their work. They currently have a hefty supply of plastic bags and could benefit from other items such as tape, name tags, ground coffee, snack items, etc. Donations can be dropped off at any workday or at their church office on weekdays. Please call the church office for their drop off schedule at 773-283-2326. For a complete list of items needed, please click here. Or, if you don't have time to shop, gift cards (Target, Dollar Tree, Office Max, Costco, Mariano's, etc.) and monetary donations are also always appreciated! 

        NLOB's main office is located at United in Faith Lutheran Church, 6525 W. Irving Park Road, Chicago. For more information, please reach out to  joinnlob@gmail.com. 

        Love + Light,

        Smita :)

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