Margaret Rentmeesters is making beds from plastic bags to serve the city’s homeless community.
As originally reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, Rentmeesters, 82, said she got the idea of reusing plastic bags to make bed mats for the homeless from a magazine in the 1970s, when her children were in grade school and used them to carry lunches to school.
She said after hearing about a ban on plastic bags in California, she wanted to find a way to clean up and keep the bags out of trees and car mufflers. By using the plastic to make purses, she said, she found a way to turn the longevity of the material into an advantage.
After recently reviving her purse making hobby, Rentmeesters said a friend suggested she use her skills to create sleeping mats for the homeless.
“Here in Madison, we are always concerned about people in dire conditions, and I personally know them from living downtown, volunteering at the library and volunteering at the senior center,” Rentmeeseters said.
The process of making the mats is a fairly simple crocheting project. She said she still has the first mat she made decades ago.
“It is very simple: cut them into a long stretch and crochet them in very simple structures,” Rentmeesters said. “Do a chain stitch and a single crochet stitch and before you know it, you have got a mat.”
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, said the City Council has gone back and forth on whether or not to ban the use of plastic bags for shopping in Madison.
Verveer said Rentmeesters has a long history of serving the Madison community through volunteer work and other contributions.
“I have been friends with Margaret for 20 years, she is an amazing woman,” Verveer said. “Her vocation, ever since I have known her, has been to volunteer.”
Rentmeesters said this project is something she does in her spare time. She said she crochets for a couple of hours each evening while she watches television and has made 10 mats for local homeless people so far.
Rentmeesters said she has also taught classes at the Madison Senior Center on how to make mats and purses out of old bags, and she hopes when a daytime homeless shelter is built, they will teach similar classes there as well.
However, Rentmeesters said people are much more willing to contribute than to create the mats themselves.
“For the most part, people are ready to give me the plastic bags but not everybody is willing to spend the time on it,” Rentmeesters said. “It is a slow process.”