Students from the York Catholic school board weave together four-litre milk bags which are shipped to places like Haiti as protective packaging for other goods then distributed for use as sleeping mats. Photo courtesy Sonia Gallo

Parish, school join forces to save humanitarian project

  • September 6, 2014

RICHMOND HILL, ONT. - When a humanitarian project that turned old milk bags into sleeping mats stalled, Cathie Furfaro found new partners for the initiative at the nearby parish.

“For me the real inspiration came because of this teacher in Grade 2 at St. Joseph’s (Elementary School) who had done this so lovingly and generously all this time,” said Furfaro, the lay pastoral assistant at Our Lady Queen of the World. “Now that she was sick nothing was happening with it.”

For a number of years the parish and elementary school worked together to turn four-litre milk bags, the ones that come with three smaller bags inside, into sleeping mats to be shipped to Third World nations.

But when the teacher supervising the project took sick, production came to a halt during the 2012-13 school year, leaving the parish with the problem of what to do with the excess milk bags.

“We had dozens and dozens of them in the garage here,” said Furfaro.

Furfaro then called upon the parish’s neighbours at Jean Vanier Catholic High School, specifically those students taking shop class, and they agreed to build new weaving looms for the project. 

“They built us six of these frames which we could weave the mats on much more quickly than by hand crocheting them,” she said.

To fashion the mats volunteers cut the flattened bags into 38.1-cm-wide loops, link them together in a chain and weave them together. It takes about 500 milk bags to produce one mat. The completed mats serve two purposes. First, they are used as protective wrapping for supplies, in this case protective packaging for donations from Canadian Food For Children. Each mat saves the humanitarian relief effort about $50 in packing material. Once the supplies reach their destina-tion, which for the most part is Haiti, said Furfaro, the mats are then used as mobile sleeping mats. Beyond comfort, the mats separate the body from the ground away from many harmful parasites.

When the parish found a new partner with Jean Vanier, word soon spread throughout the school inspiring other students to get involved. Furfaro said shortly after receiving the looms last year dozens of students were coming to the parish after school to assist in the assembly process.

As the new school year begins, Furfaro hopes to see students continue donating their time after class to weave what would have been garbage into a life-saving product.

“It is just a beautiful, beautiful way that the parish and the schools, both elementary and secondary, have really come together,” she said.

“It is giving the students a real life project where what they are doing in school really makes a dif-ference in the world beyond the school walls.”

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