MLK Jr. Day participants 'craft for the community'
More than 100 community members, students, faculty and staff risked a snowy commute to Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus to attend the Martin Luther King Day of Service event, “Crafting for the Community.”
The event focused on ‘up-cycling’, a process by which items that would normally be discarded are remade into something useable without degrading the item. Another word for up-cycling would be ‘reusing’, and this differs from recycling in that the process of recycling degrades the material, extending its span of usability, but ultimately not keeping the items out of landfills in the future.
Most of the crafts were simple and common, like knitting hats on round looms, sewing more hats out of fabric or making scarves with knotted fringes. Other crafts were more complicated, and some even unusual, like the ones dedicated to crocheting sleeping mats for people in Africa out of plastic grocery bags. These mats are important, as many people across the African continent have nothing to sleep on, and when they do, their mats wear out easily and are often stolen from them. To help prevent this, the plastic bag mats are light, like a yoga mat, and made so that they can be rolled up, and hung over the shoulder with a strap also made of plastic bags. This allows them to be carried throughout the day.
“It’s like knitting with one needle,” said Carmela Pearsall. This one-needle-knitting project takes around 800 plastic grocery bags to make one five-foot-by-three-foot mat, which can take up to two weeks to create.
The items up-cycled during the event will be donated to various area shelters, as well as areas in need across the globe like Guatemala, Romania, Ghana, Haiti, South Dakota and the Appalachian region. Though these last two places aren’t often thought of as needing by Americans, they have requested pillowcase dresses and T-shirts to help fend off the cold.
“Either I could be sitting at home, sleeping in my bed, or I could be doing the right thing, celebrating the right way,” said Dawson Barnes, a GVSU student who worked on making scarves at the morning session.
Another table also had a craft centered on the cancer patients. This table had supplies to make lanyards that would hold drainage bags many breast cancer patients have attached under their arms after surgery. The lanyards help keep the bags up and out of the way, said Ingrid Johnson, a cancer survivor working at the event. This enables the patients to shower easier and move with less restriction. The lanyards will be donated to the Helen DeVos Hospital.
“I think it’s important that people get involved,” said Allison McDowell, another GVSU student at the morning session. McDowell was using one of the two sewing machines there to make hats out of fleece, which will be sent to the Hope Lodge for women with cancer.
One of the women coordinating the event was Sally Vissers, who donated most of the materials used for the crafts, including the fleece, pillowcases and plastic bags.
“We had a grant,” Vissers said, “but I had a lot of it.”
Vissers was featured last year as Fox 17’s “Pay it Forward” Person of the Week in February and is the department coordinator for Women and Gender Studies and Liberal Studies. One of Vissers projects has been to make and donate over 5,000 ‘pillowcase dresses,’ which are small dresses made out of decorated pillowcases.
Anyone who would like to make and donate items can find instructions for crafts through a web search of ‘up-cycling,’ and the Women and Gender Studies department will be putting up instructions on its webpage. To contact Vissers about donating materials, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her office at 616-331-8020.
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