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Giving back

Tallgrass Creek neighbors join together to help the homeless

Created date

February 21st, 2019
Marilyn Wheeler (left) and Linda Westbrook are hard at work making plastic mats for the homeless that go underneath sleeping bags to keep moisture out. Residents use a ball of “plarn” made from cut-up, plastic grocery bags to crochet the mats.

Marilyn Wheeler (left) and Linda Westbrook are hard at work making plastic mats for the homeless that go underneath sleeping bags to keep moisture out. Residents use a ball of “plarn” made from cut-up, plastic grocery bags to crochet the mats.

Last year, a group of caring Tallgrass Creek neighbors baked a total of 31,119 cookies, all for other people to enjoy.   

The volunteer cookie bakers are well known at Tallgrass Creek. It all started in 2010 when Fran Wolfe and Bunny Brown, who both live at the Overland Park, Kans., Erickson Living community, met Marcia Merrick, a local advocate for the disadvantaged. Merrick prepares and delivers 400 lunches to the homeless in the Kansas City area each day. Her lunches always include two freshly baked cookies.

“Homemade cookies convey feelings of care and love,” says Merrick. “I’d like the people who eat these lunches to feel a little of that.”

Fran and Bunny decided to help Merrick by baking cookies and mentioned it to a few of their neighbors.

“People really wanted to help,” says Bunny. “We organized it so it was easy for anyone to participate.”

Participating residents bake two dozen cookies (or more) on the fifteenth of each month, bag two to a baggie, and deliver them to the resident life office. Fran and Bunny consolidate the cookies into large boxes which Merrick picks up and adds to her lunches.

“You can always tell when it’s cookie day because the smell of freshly baked cookies fills the hallway and resident life office,” Bunny says. “It smells wonderful.”

Fran, the official cookie counter, says Tallgrass Creek bakers made 624 cookies that first year and the number continues to rise every year.   

“Last year was a banner year, and this one should be even better,” says Fran. “People like to help and this is a fun, easy way to do it.”

More than cookies

Over the years, residents have found other ways to help the homeless. Tallgrass Creek’s Creative Hands Club meets every Friday afternoon with needles, looms, and other knitting supplies in hand to create colorful blankets, scarves, and hats which Merrick distributes to the homeless. They also collect peanut butter, jelly, small soaps and shampoos, eyeglasses, and other items for Merrick to give to those in need.

Resident Linda Westbrook discovered another unique way to help by using her crocheting skills.

“I’d heard about mats made from plastic grocery bags that go underneath sleeping bags to keep moisture out,” says Linda. “I found a YouTube video that showed how to make them so I printed up directions, and several of us went for it.”

Linda says making the mats is a true group effort. Each mat requires about 700 grocery bags (mostly donated by Tallgrass Creek residents) that are folded in half and then cut into two-inch strips. The strips are tied together and rolled into a large ball resembling yarn called “plarn.”

Using a large crochet needle, the plarn is crocheted to create mats that are about six feet long and three feet wide.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” says Rita Thomson. “Each mat takes about 25 hours to create. We’ve made about 50 so far.”

The finished mats include a handle, also made from plastic bags, so they can be hoisted over shoulders for easy transport.

“Recently, someone from here saw a person with one of the mats over his shoulder, and that gave us a nice feeling of accomplishment,” says Linda. “It’s just another way to show our gratitude and give back.”

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