This organization turns old plastic into practical items like mattresses
I hate making the bed.
On a good day, I wrestle with my fitted sheet and manage to throw my duvet over my mattress, but most days, in the mad dash to get to work, I leave my covers in a heap.
So when I found myself in a Scarborough classroom learning to weave a bed out of discarded milk bags, I wasn’t expecting to be a pro.
Beside me were dozens of high school special needs students speedily threading rows of multicolour plastic into mats perhaps destined for Nicaragua, Haiti or Cameroon — places where dusty earth, cardboard and newspapers often take the place of memory foam, down-filling and Egyptian cotton.
Angela Kesthely, a Kleinburg dentistry office worker who founded MILKBAGSunlimited — a haphazard, but dedicated network of volunteer milk-bag mat weavers across the GTA — hovered beside me.
“You’ll get the hang of it,” she assured me, as I picked up my first bag and joined a group already toiling away. “We have taught kids as young as five and adults as old as 105 to weave.”
While I began my first mat, surprised at how simple the process really is, Kesthely told me the idea to turn milk bags into mats all came about on the back benches of a basketball court seven years ago, when she would watch her son’s games while crocheting and knitting hundreds of scarves for the Scott Mission.
Another spectator wandered over to ask if she’d ever heard of crocheting with milk bags. Kesthely hadn’t.
“I went home that night and took that first milk bag out of my fridge,” she said.
Over four years, it took some finagling before she switched to weaving the mats on wooden frames and found companies to help get them overseas to those most in need.
She had never advertised, but soon enough, Kesthely was teaching neighbours, churches, seniors clubs and schools from Ajax to Toronto to Mississauga. Even family vacations to the Maritimes were interrupted by requests for Kesthely to give lessons to groups out east.
Then, milk bag companies started asking her to take reams of misprinted bags off their hands.
It was getting overwhelming, so she found warehouse space and help from a local doctor Andrew Simone, who sends off beds and pillows made from bag scraps and donated fabric in shipping containers, “shoving mats between cans, tins, schools supplies and clothes as packing materials.”
Kesthely is rarely able to make the trip with the mats or piles of bags they send for people to weave themselves. She did once visit Haiti though, teaching women without jobs to weave the bags into purses they can sell.
“I had one woman thank me in Creole because she could buy medicine for her kid because she sold a bag,” Kesthely recalled.
Others told her “how hard it is for a father to watch his kids lay down in the dirt like dogs” and how her mats would make all the difference.
Those stories tugged on my heartstrings as I and a handful of other students neared the halfway point on our first mat.
While we wove, teachers popped into the room, prodding students to try lying on a sample mat Kesthely had brought with her. (I’d be lying if I said it was a cosy as a mattress, but it was definitely comfier and more chic than the blue foam rolls I’ve snuggled up on when camping.)
As Kesthely coaxed us through the final steps to crafting our mat, I was amazed.
It had only been roughly two hours, but with a pile of bags that I would have usually thrown in the garbage, I had been able to make something that would travel halfway around the world and hopefully, help someone in need.
As I surveyed the finished mat, I reflected that this bed, unlike my unruly pile of sheets, was satisfying to make.
To get involved as a volunteer bag weaver or to donate to MILKBAGSunlimited, go to milkbagsunlimited.ca.
BY THE NUMBERS
7,200 beds have been woven by Kesthely and her volunteers
750,000 bags have been delivered to Haiti
500 milk bags are needed on average to construct an adult-size mat
350 milk bags are needed on average to weave a child-size mat