Increasing student compassion at Mountainside Elementary by crocheting “plarn” mats for the homeless

students with a completed"plarn" mat
Students show off a completed "plarn" mat. Each mat is made of roughly 700 plastic bags.


Over the last two years, students in Lauri Anderson’s class at Mountainside Elementary School have had a unique opportunity to serve the homeless community. By repurposing single-use plastic bags into “plarn” or plastic yarn, students crochet mats that are then donated to the homeless, providing a warm, soft surface for them to sit and sleep on. 


Anderson believes it is important for her students to “be aware of what other people are going through and realize they can be a part of making someone’s life better." She continued, “They should realize that what we take for granted can really be useful to someone else.” Through this project, students also learn how to work as a team and develop compassion for others. The mat project doubles as an opportunity to be more environmentally-conscious and responsible.


Roughly 700 bags are needed to make just one mat. Students gather the bags, cut them into long strips, and then crochet them into large, heavy mats. Since starting in April, Anderson’s classes have made two complete mats and are currently working on their third. The mats are donated to an organization called “Operation Give Warmth,” which then distributes the mats to those in need. Operation Give Warmth also gathers donations of other essential winter items for the homeless, such as coats, hats, gloves, and socks. 


Anderson says that participating in the project has positively affected her own life. “When we serve others, we feel happier and more fulfilled in our own lives,” she explained. “The key to happiness is not in how many bags we bring home filled with wonderful things, it is in how many people we can show compassion for others and help in some way.”