Giving Back

Stitch In Time Knits To Aid Homeless Vets

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Spotswood knitting group delivers mats for homeless vets that they fashioned from recycled plastic bags. Credits: Diane Charlesworth
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The ladies received a "warm reception" for their community-wide endeavor at the All Wars Memorial Building in Atlantic City. Credits: Diane Charlesworth
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SPOTSWOOD, NJ - Plastic bags are never in short supply whether they're from Shop Rite, Target or any local shop. The question is what do folks do with all of the plastic bags that accumulate around the house. Well, a group of knitters found the perfect answer; knit sleeping mats for homeless vets.

Diane Charlesworth and Lorraine Sardone are part of a local knitting group called Stitch in Time. The group formed at the Spotswood Public Library when Charlesworth started a Thursday afternoon knitting and crochet club at the Main Street library two years ago. Today, the group of seven meets a few doors down at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. The enthusiastic group of knitters and crocheters recently completed a community-wide project that was near and dear to their hearts.

The ladies crocheted 20 mats for homeless veterans. While the actual crocheting of the mats took approximately three and a half months for the seven crafters to put together, the endeavor required the effort of many.

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First up, of course was the collection of plastic bags. Sleeping mats can be knitted or crocheted from plarn. Plarn is simply yarn that is made from plastic bags. The first step in knitting the mat is the mass collection and sorting of those plastic bags everyone has lying around their homes.

Brian's Lawnmower & Saws Sales on Manalapan Road became a staging point for the massive collection of plastic bags, agreeing to accept and store bag donations. It actually takes about 600 to 700 bags to make one three foot by six foot mat. The Ladies Auxiliary from American Legion Post 253 also had a hand in the prep work behind the actual mat making.

"The ladies from the Women's Auxiliary of the American Legion were especially kind and SO interested in helping us," Charlesworth said about the support from fellow residents. "Going forward, I've said this before...it's all about networking. We will explore this potential more fully this summer. A special thanks to Sue Gallina-Engstrom and all the great people at Brian's Lawnmower Service for graciously offering to be a collection point for the recycled plastic shopping bags we needed to make these mats."

On May 16, Charlesworth and Sardone traveled to Atlantic City to deliver their mats to the All Wars Memorial Building.

"The NJ American Legion was conducting a 'Stand Down' where veterans are provided with clothing, basic necessities, counseling services and other programs designed to help get the vets back on their feet, Charlesworth explained.

The ladies were met with smiles, handshakes and warm hearts. It was a reception that made all the hard work worthwhile.

"I'm not sure I have the words to fully explain what Lorraine Sardone and I experienced today when we delivered the sleeping mats to the people who will give them out tomorrow," Charlesworth said. "The warm reception we received was beyond our expectations! Mostly everybody seemed to know who were were and why we were there. I feel this is a relationship that will be ongoing for a long time!"

Charlesworth also had high words of praise for the other five ladies who had lent their knitting and crocheting skills to the huge undertaking.

"To my ladies, I wish all of you could have been there to feel the love," Charlesworth said. "I'm so far beyond proud of all of you and all you've done to make this dream a reality!"

Charlesworth first became interested in the mats for the homeless project after watching a Facebook video about a group of Tennessee "Bag Ladies" who had knitted 80 sleeping mats for homeless folks in their area. The video inspired Charlesworth to take on the task in the Garden State and judging by the positive response, those 20 mats won't be the last constructed by the Stitch in Time ladies.

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