Our State Motto: Salus populi suprema lex esto, “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.”

Janet Rebant and her daughter Kari Stayton can be found weaving in front of the TV, with a group at the courthouse in Plattsburg, Missouri, or at a local senior center.

But it’s not just a hobby. Janet and Kari started Sacks to Mats, a group that weaves mats for the homeless out of plastic bags.

They saw this done before by crocheting them, something Kari couldn’t do. She began researching in hopes of finding a way that would be easily teachable to others. During a Google search, Kari found peg loom weaving, a type of weaving that uses wooden weaving sticks that the weaver threads the material through in a simple pattern. Their looms are made to fit the exact size and needs of Sacks to Mats.

Weaving plastic bags to make the mats has many benefits. There are no holes, so bugs can’t come through. They don’t easily get damp, and they are recycling plastic bags into something useful.

Each mat takes about 400 to 500 plastic bags to make. Janet and Kari have numerous bags in storage waiting to become mats.

The majority of plastic bags either end up in landfills or stored in the kitchen. Janet and Kari began asking their friends and family for their plastic bags. Soon word got out, and people were more than eager to have a place to get rid of them.

The group has handed out approximately 400 mats, using about 200,000 plastic bags to make them. And that’s just for the mats, Janet says. They also make pillows.

The mats do require a special plastic, known as Nu-Age 10+, to hold them together. At first, it was sold at their local hardware store, but the store stopped selling it. Janet wrote a letter to the ISI Building Products, the plastic company, explaining their project and asked if it was being sold within 200 miles of her or her daughter. Instead of selling it to them, the company began shipping the plastic to them at no cost.

“We’ll start to get discouraged and think things just aren’t going well,” Janet says. “And the Lord provides. There’ll be something that is just that spark that we need to keep going.”

Both Janet and Kari say it was important they gave back.

“We are truly blessed. So, what can we do to give back to people that don’t have what we have?” Kari says. “It’s just what we as humans do to help others.”

Most of the mats are taken to Kansas City or St. Joseph, where there’s a bigger homeless population than in Plattsburg, but despite how many mats they make, it’s never enough.

“Before we were done unloading, they were walking out of the building,” Kari says, talking about a time they dropped off the mats at Grand Avenue Temple United Methodist Church in Kansas City.

One unexpected thing for Kari is how it’s brought people together. She can easily get discouraged from the news she reads every day, but her weaving group proves people are still willing to come together and make the community a better place—even if it’s “something simple, some idea that a few people talked about. This just shows that we really can, and we do.”

Photos // Heather Morrison