Working on the school’s loom, George Jenkins weaves plastic loops made from old milk bags to form a bed mat. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Milk bags turned into beds

  • December 7, 2012

TORONTO - Students at St. Marcellus Catholic School in Toronto’s west end are turning old four-litre milk bags into beds.

They’ll become bed mats the school will send to the world’s disaster areas through Canadian Food for Children.

“We’re making bed mats to send to disaster zones around the world and we’re trying to involve the children,” said Caroline O’Connor, the teacher leading St. Marcellus’ Bed Mat Club. “They really are providing someone with a bed, a mobile bed, that keeps them off the cold ground. If you’ve ever picked one of these bed mats up and wrapped it around you, they’re pretty warm.”

More than that, said O’Connor, these mats have been shown to reduce the risk of parasitic infections by 40 per cent simply by providing a plastic barrier between the body and the ground.

To make one of these mats the students first take the collected bags, which are sorted by colour, and cut them into 38.1 cm wide loops called plarn — they get two strips per bag. Working in pairs the students roll the strips into softball-sized spheres for easy storage.

Meanwhile, other students work with the already prepared plarn, weaving the plastic strips through a loom which was donated to the school from the senior centre next door. The centre has partnered with the students on the project. It takes about 500 plastic bags — and 80 hours labour — to make each mat, said O’Connor.

Originally the school was just collecting bags for the senior centre’s Bed Mat Club, but once the student’s curiosity grew the elders passed down their wisdom.

“The seniors and children bonded immediately, it was just unbelievable,” said O’Connor, recalling the day the children attended the seniors’ weekly Wednesday meeting. “It was like a group of grandparents looking after these children and the children in my class loved it. Now we make bed mats on our loom and they make them on their loom and … we deliver them down to the Canadian Food for Children.”

On Dec. 5 O’Connor, along with students and seniors from the two clubs, were scheduled to take an expected 25 mats to the Lake Shore Boulevard warehouse. There the bed mats will first serve as protective wrapping for food and medical supplies to be shipped to Haiti before becoming someone’s new bed.

“It’s really amazing, the ingenuity of this project,” said O’Connor. “It’s just so clever to see somebody using materials so wisely.”

It’s been an inspirational project for St. Marcellus students. Twelve-year-old George Jenkins, who got involved with the club last year, has become committed to helping others.

“We’re learning how to help fundraisers, charities and other things... getting involved,” said the Grade 7 student. “If I have spare time I’d like to help out with charities and fundraisers. I would like to help other people and make things right in the world and be able to change people’s lives.”

That’s one of the components that sparked O’Connor’s interest.

“It’s a really good way to do social studies because you are learning about the world, you’re learning about other people in it and you suddenly get the children to come out of just being all about me and learn about others,” she said.

“It’s really helping them to appreciate their lives.”

Comments (1)

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Is this project still going on? I live in Montreal and wonder if I could start this project here. Thank you

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