A warm thank you to our new partners, the amazing people of Luther Woods Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. A heartfelt desire to help others and many, many hours go into each mat that we distribute to our homeless friends. Wonderful work!
Residents at Luther Woods nursing center reach out by weaving mats for the homeless
By Debra Wallace, correspondent
Randie Duretz, the director of activities and volunteers at Luther Woods Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Horsham, shows resident Marie Frederich how to tie the plastic bag strips used to create mats by residents and volunteers to be donated for the homeless to sleep on.
Betsy Chope, a volunteer at Luther Woods Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Horsham, ties together plastic bags to be used in the making of mats for the homeless to sleep on.
Ann Affleck, a resident of Luther Woods Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Horsham, weaves plastic bags to help create the design as she and others make mats to donate to the homeless to sleep on.
Mounds of plastic bags are in the activities room at Luther Woods Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Horsham, waiting to be turned into mats by residents and volunteers in the center to be donated for the homeless to sleep on.
Many of us may feel good taking a trip to the recycle bin, but the residents of Luther Woods Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Horsham aim to take the whole idea of recycling one step further.
Combining their interest in crafts with a deep concern for less fortunate members of the community, they have launched a new outreach initiative to make and provide waterproof mats for local homeless people.
Recently, several residents and Randie Duretz, the director of activities & volunteers at the Hatboro-based nursing and rehab center, were talking about recycling the shopping bags that were in their craft room. Soon after, they asked Duretz for her ideas, and the homeless mat project, “Made With Love,” was born.
This new project is not the first time that Luther Woods’ residents, family members, staff and volunteers connected to the community, and it won’t be the last.
“While I am working on this, I am thinking that it’s going to help someone from having to lay on the cold or wet ground, so I’m glad to help out,” said Dot Holzworth, 83, from Warminster. “I am never bored here; there is always plenty to do. So why not do it with a purpose in mind?”
Once the idea came to fruition, Duretz asked Luther Woods volunteer Anne Cavanaugh to teach the interested residents how to weave and crochet. The grandson of a family member made and donated a loom, and several other family members and staff began collecting plastic bags — both new and recycled.
All told they have amassed some 13,000 bags from local stores and the community. Each mat requires 500 to 700 bags.
“It took me about a month working in my spare time to make the first mat,” Cavanaugh said. “I love this project. It serves three purposes — recycling, giving the residents a way to give back, and helping our fellow man. All of us want to reach out and help our community; this is our unique way of doing so.”
What began as a craft project for the residents to keep their hands and minds active, has proven to be a way for them to show their compassion and improve the lives of local people who are experiencing tough times.
“This is a true labor of love for all of us,” Duretz said, as she showed the weaving loom, and an overflowing display of plastic bags. “I appreciate that everyone is working together for one common goal: to help out others in need.”
There are also myriad benefits for the nursing home residents, who range in age from 50 to 100, according to John Thomas, their occupational therapist. He said that making the mats is valuable for socialization, activity endurance, dexterity, fine motor tolerance, paying attention to the task at hand and thinking of the cognitive sequence.
“It’s good for both the body and mind when they are working on something like this,” Thomas said.
The first two completed mats, hand-crafted from new and recycled plastic bags, were recently donated to representatives of Advocates for Homeless & Those in Need (AHTN), where they were given to local homeless people living in Bucks County.
“The mat, besides being warm, waterproof and providing comfort, it’s an emotional symbol of hope,” explained Elizabeth Sullivan, AHTN’s Program Consultant. “This project shows our homeless friends that someone else is out there who cares about their fate.”
On July 27, Sullivan came to Luther Woods with managing consultant Karen Mineo and they explained to the residents about the many AHTN programs and services offered to local homeless men and women, including Code Blue shelters from December through March, transportation to various appointments, access to resources, a web-site with job listings, and buses that take them to some 30 local houses of worship for daily meals.
The program is always looking for volunteers and donations. At the top of the agency’s “wish list” is warm clothing, especially thermal underwear in all sizes, hats, waterproof gloves and socks.
The next day Sullivan showed a video to the homeless men and women of Luther residents making the mats. The homeless were instantly fascinated by the project. Now, there is a waiting list of homeless recipients, from their 20s to the elderly.
“It was such a good feeling to share this,” Sullivan said. “One mat went to a man and the other to a woman; both of them were extremely grateful and said they needed it.”
She said this is the start of “a great heartfelt partnership between Luther Woods and the local homeless community. I know we are going to do much more good works together.”
At any one time, there are an estimated 20,000 men, women and children living in area homeless shelters, which have waiting lists of two months or more. There are an additional 7,000 people sleeping on local streets, in the woods, in tents or in their cars, some 525 in Bucks County and another 450 in Montgomery County. Social workers say that the number is considered to be much higher.
The reasons people are homeless run the gamut: illness, mental health issues, loss of jobs, a tragic fire in the home, exhausting resources, lack of family support and financial hardship.
People may see a homeless person and say, “this couldn’t happen to me,” but many experts disagree with that mindset. “It is easy to fall,” Sullivan said. “Some people are one paycheck away from eviction and homelessness.”
The homeless mat project is just one of many ways Duretz and the Luther Woods residents want to reach out to the community. Each year, the residents “adopt” local needy families and the staff buys gifts for them with the money raised from sales at their winter craft fair. This year, as the weather becomes colder, the residents plan to make and donate warm and waterproof hats, scarves, and gloves for the homeless, while continuing to craft and donate the waterproof mats.
“I have been straightening the bags, cutting and looping the strips and learning to crochet for the first time,” said longtime Luther Woods’ resident Yvette Pattison, 80. “I feel good giving them something soft, warm, and dry. It’s a pleasure when you can do something to help other people.”
Pat Hannon, 81, who recently moved to Luther Woods, said she is still learning how to make the mats. “I’m not sure I know exactly what I am doing, but I know it’s a great idea. If I were homeless; I would hope that someone would want to help me.”