Story by JENNA BAILEY
The Emerald Coast Bag Ladies (ECBL) have launched a chain reaction in northwest
Florida with their movement to create quality sleeping mats for the homeless out of plastic bags that have been crocheted together.
Since the group’s conception in October of 2016, the Bag Ladies have inspired the creation of similar local groups throughout the neighboring counties of northwest Florida. The inspiration for ECBL came from the mind of DeFuniak Springs resident Debbie Barberee. After going on disability, Barberee grew tired of staying at home and decided to pay her sister a visit in Tennessee. Barberee stopped at a Hardee’s along the way – where she saw a group of ladies crocheting mats from plastic bags. She sat with the women and watched them work so that she could learn their process. It did not take Barberee long to get the hang of making the mats and upon returning home she decided to create a Bag Ladies group for the local area.
The Bag Ladies meet at about 10 different locations including multiple Hardee’s locations, the Pizza Hut in DeFuniak Springs, the Airport Church of Christ in Crestview, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Navarre, and the Mossy Head Community Center. Group members meet every day except for Thursday. It is not always the same women at each meeting, but members come as their schedules allow. All materials and labor in the endeavor come completely from charity and volunteers. Most completed mats are distributed to organizations that have requested mats for their cause or dropped off at locations such as Caring & Sharing.
It takes 700 bags to complete a mat and the time to produce a mat depends on how much work needs to be done before the crocheting process. If all of the bags have already been flattened and cut, a mat can be completed in two weeks. If the process must start from the very beginning, it could take much longer, according to Barberee.
The Emerald Coast Bag Ladies are seeking more volunteers to help them in their effort to
provide more mats to homeless individuals in the local community. Not everyone has the ability to crochet and each member does what they can. Bag lady roles include someone to collect plastic bags from local businesses, flattening bags, cutting bags, tying the bags together and crocheting them together.
“It doesn’t matter,” says Barberee when referring to what role a member plays in the production process. “We will all work together to get it done.” Many of the members are women that have retired and are glad to take a hobby they enjoy such as crocheting and putting those skills towards a good cause. Frequently, children and husbands will pitch to help as well. More information on the Emerald Coast Bag Ladies can be found on their Facebook group: Crocheted Mats for the Homeless. On Saturday, Feb. 24, the Bag Ladies will be meeting at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Navarre at 10 a.m. for a special meeting to teach other non-profit organizations and private individuals how to join in on working together to help the homeless – one bag at a time.