Have you ever wondered what you could do with a milk bag? You know, those multicoloured bags that hold our milk. Well they can also hold a person, that is if you weave above 500 of them together. The School of Early Childhood Studies held an event this past week where I was able to do just that. I came together with other nutrition students and faculty, early childhood education students, and parents and children from the Early Learning Centre to turn old milk bags into mats and mattresses of a different kind.
MILKBAGSunlimited is an organization that works with schools and other institutions and individuals to create bedding and other valuable items out of old milk bags and donates them to people all over the world who need them. Working with donated milk bags that are durable, washable, don’t retain moisture, and will last for up to 25 years is not only economical but it is also environmentally conscious. These milk bags would have regularly ended up in landfills poisoning our earth and now they are providing comfort to someone who may have only a piece of cardboard to sleep on. MILKBAGSunlimited estimates that they have saved 5.7 million milk bags from landfills and created 7200 mats out of them.
MILKBAGSunlimited not only provides mats but they also collect supplies such as wheelchairs, crutches, school materials, toys, and tools and send them all over the world. What I found to be very interesting is that the mats are used as packing material, they serve a dual purpose, to protect and insulate the packing crates and to be used as a mattress at their destination. On top of all this MILKBAGSunlimited provides an opportunity for micro-entrepreneurship. They provide the supplies so that individuals in communities around the world can make their own products and sell them within their countries. This provides an opportunity for people who might otherwise not have the resources or occasion to earn an income. This allows these communities to prosper and the individuals who live there to buy food, clothing, and other necessities.
I was delighted when I heard that there was an opportunity to take some time out of my study schedule to weave together some old milk bags. It sounds strange but it’s actually quite fun and a bit of a workout. What was even more beneficial for me was getting a chance to work with the kids from the Early Learning Centre. I believe that children need a chance to learn new skills and be exposed to different kinds of work. Even though they probably had no idea why we were tying a bunch of milk bags together they got the opportunity to do something new with their hands which is very important. Kids need to see that there are different ways to learn even if they don’t see it that way, these kinds of experiences can be very formative for their brains. Additionally, being able to socialize with people who they don’t know will help them to grow.
After all the mats were finished being woven together I was given one to give away to someone who is experiencing homelessness. I regularly walk home from school and so I was sure I would find someone to give my mat to, but because of the extreme cold I had trouble. However, a few days later I was walking down Yonge Street and saw a man with his dog sitting on the street. Thankfully I had decided to try again to give the mat away that day. When I went up to him, a little nervousness in my step because I know if I were him it would be strange to have some random person come up to me and ask if I wanted some mat they made out of milk bags. After I explained what it was, he decided to keep the mat and he unrolled it and gave it to his dog to sleep on instead of using it for himself.
This whole experience made my heart feel a little lighter, but while I was walking I noticed more and more people experiencing homelessness that could have used my mat which made me sad. I found myself saying “damn I could’ve given it to that person too or that person”. It made me realize just how fortunate I am and it instilled some fear into my heart and mind. I don’t know how people who live on the street handle the stress, I can barely deal with assignments let alone not having a room of my own. I sometimes hear people comment about how disgusting homeless people are and how they are a waste and this rips my heart up because what if that were them? What if they had nowhere to go, would they want to be called disgusting? There are so many factors that lead into homelessness and so many things that come out of it that make it extremely difficult to remove oneself from it. People experiencing homelessness do not deserve to be treated as someone lesser, they are just as important to our world as we are. I feel that sometimes people create a “them and us” attitude when it comes to homelessness when it should really just be us. We are all responsible for homelessness and we can all do something about it. We should not “other” homeless people, they are a part of our society, and they are a part of us.