Ragland finds new meaningful purpose for old plastic bags

Published 9:15 am Wednesday, September 6, 2023

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Andalusia resident Jennifer Ragland is giving new life to plastic bags as she repurposes them into sleeping mats for less fortunate individuals including those who are homeless.

Ragland hopes to demonstrate the transformation of these bags to others by teaching a class at the Andalusia Adult Activity Center.

“I make a sleeping mat for a homeless person and take 700 of our local stores’ bags. I process them in a very simple and easy way. We create plastic yarn and crochet a 6-foot by 3-foot mat for a homeless person to sleep on and take refuge from the environment. They can protect themselves from the rain or even cover up with it and stay warm. I have been reusing, repurposing, and recycling these plastic bags for the last eight years. My director who I have mentored with has made over 200 mats in Crestview,” Ragland said.

She first came across the idea when she was visiting her parents through a group called the “Okaloosa Bag Ladies” in Crestview.

“I saw this absolutely beautiful mat hanging in there and got involved. Many people have come through the program, including high school students who sought their extracurricular credits for community involvement. The director has a relationship with all of the churches in Crestview, Niceville, Fort Walton Beach, and even as far as Pensacola. When they receive calls for their homeless, we begin crocheting and get to work making these bags. We gift them to the churches and community centers and get the colored bags of our choice, which can be purchased on Amazon.”

According to Ragland, one mat takes two months and 700 bags to complete. She has finished 37 bags to date.

“I have CashApp where people have sent donations to put toward a box of colored bags that costs about $40. I repurpose, reuse, and recycle bags that have already been used and put them to good use. I have disseminated them to the director in Crestview for her to give to the needy she has relationships with and have gone with her to many senior citizens’ homes. The community has inquired about how to do this in their free time. We have a potluck once a month and have fellowship with others about how we can help those who are less fortunate in our community. It’s a wonderful mission,” she said.

She added that consistency is important throughout the process.

“When you process them, you get four rings per bag, which comes out to about 2,800 rings. It’s definitely an involved process that takes time but is a free resource we should absolutely help our world. We don’t need to litter but more so repurpose these bags into something useful.”

Ragland is originally from Detroit but relocated to Andalusia four and a half years ago. She is a retired disabled teacher of 25 years who taught third and fourth grade students at Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Michigan. Her son, Camron Ragland, is an officer with the Andalusia Police Department.

“I came through to see my parents and fell in love with Andalusia. The people are absolutely amazing. For me, it is about the love and being a part of the community. It is what God would do, and He expects to help our less fortunate and the needy. It makes me feel good to do that. Not everybody is homeless by choice, but they have no other means of support. I take pictures of my creations because it takes time but fills my heart with joy,” she said.

She first visited the Adult Activity Center when she was visiting her son and inquired about teaching a class on repurposing plastic bags.

“When I got to the activity center, I saw everything that was going on and thought it was fantastic with nutrition, hobbies, games, and fellowship. The staff was absolutely amazed by what I could do with these bags. They were receptive and told me they would take a survey to see who is interested in recycling and repurposing these bags into mats. I can show you how to process it, make yarn, and actually crochet. People can collect all their old bags and bring them to the center rather than throw them out or take them to the recycling center.”

Once a mat is completed, it is donated to the homeless or less fortunate at no charge.

“These mats are donated out of love. We incur the fee if we buy our own bags and do the work. We crochet them and make plastic yarn that turn into these fantastic mats. It is a very powerful mission that makes me happy and cradles whatever pain I am going through. Please save your bags and bring them to the center, or I will pick them up,” Ragland said.

The Adult Activity Center is located at 401 Walker Avenue in downtown Andalusia near the Ballet. Hours of operation are weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information email Ragland at jc3rg123@aol.com, call her at 313-310-1419, or call the activity center at 334-222-6891. CashApp donations may be sent to $MaNana’sWorld.