Are you one of those folks that has a cabinet in your kitchen devoted entirely to plastic grocery bags?
If so, you are not alone! In fact, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps each year. That is over one thousand bags per person living in the U.S.
Despite the fact that more materials than ever are being recycled and reused (just search aluminum can crafts on Pinterest), according to Recyclebank.com, a website that is educating and rewarding individuals who are working to reduce waste, plastic bags are still not as widely recycled as other forms of plastic. But one Holly Springs resident has found an unconventional way to put some of these 380 billion bags to good use.
Jean Kinyon has been an avid quilter and knitter for over 50 years. “With five children and fourteen grandchildren, there is always something to be made,” she said. In addition to creating pieces for her family, Jean is also involved in several charitable organizations. She is part of a group that quilts baby items for infants that are in the hospital, along with prayer shawls for those that are in need. It was during her time quilting and knitting that Jean felt drawn to find out more about a particular item. “It was like someone whispered to me to find out more about bed rolls,” Jean recalls. She had never heard of a bed roll, and wasn’t sure what they were, but she felt compelled to find out.
Through her research, Jean found a YouTube video that not only explained what a bed roll was, but gave in-depth instructions on how to make them out of plastic bags or Plarn (plastic bag yarn). Now that she knew what they were, she needed help making them. Though an expert at quilting and knitting, Kinyon had never learned to crochet. “My Grandmother tried to teach me several times, but I just could never get it,” she said. That didn’t stop her from forging ahead. Jean recruited some of her quilting friends and together they started a group at their church in Holly Springs called Tabitha’s Angels. The name Tabitha came from a woman in the Bible who was a seamstress that made clothes for the widows in her area, “We aren’t seamstresses, but we are Tabitha’s Angels.” Once the group was formed, they needed a way to get the word out about what they were doing, getting plastic bag donations and more hands to move the project along. Jean’s daughter helped her spread the word through the website Nextdoor.com and the bag donations started rolling in. Now all Jean needed to do was learn to crochet. “I kind of made up my own stitch that has now been named the ‘Jean 1 ½ stitch’,” she laughs. Since most of the volunteers help with preparing the plarn, a lengthy process by itself, the crocheting is left to a select few.
Once the materials and the workers were coordinated, Jean was in search of organizations that could benefit from their work. She reached out to a local news anchor, and after some diligence on her part, her story was being shared on television and through social media. This all came as a shock to Mrs. Kinyon. “The response has been incredible! I’m getting emails and calls from people in Canada and all over the U.S. wanting to help.” Currently she is working on coming up with several donation locations for people to drop off unwanted bags, but until then, people are leaving bags on her front porch. “There are days that I can’t see my porch because there are so many,” she said. All of these donations are a blessing, since it takes between 500 and 700 bags to make just one bed roll. The process is long, but the product is so rewarding.
The beauty of these bed rolls is that they are portable, each one comes with a carry strap and straps to keep it rolled up while in transport, they are a barrier between the ground or cold surfaces for those sleeping outdoors, and they repel bed bugs and lice. Tabitha’s Angels are currently working with Church in the Woods and the Love Wins ministry. In addition to helping the homeless, Tabitha’s Angels are also preparing bed rolls to help disadvantaged veterans in the area. “The need is so great,” Kinyon said.
It’s been said that big things often have small beginnings,. For Tabitha’s Angels and Jean Kinyon the small beginning came in the shape of a plastic bag. From something so trivial, comes something so profound that it touches the lives of those who often feel forgotten.
Jean Kinyon and Tabitha’s Angels meet at Holly Springs United Methodist Church, and they are always looking for extra hands to help.