Today’s Story of Service comes from Julie Conlon, a local Jefferson Award recipient who began The Lafayette Plarn Project in 2017. Julie was inspired to start this project, now called Yarn ‘n Plarn, after reading a book by Stacey Edgar, a global advocate for women in poverty. In Stacey’s book, she describes how women in developing countries use plastic bags to knit or crochet when yarn isn’t available.

Julie learned that you could use plarn (short for plastic yarn) to create plastic sleeping mats that could be used as a waterproof barrier when sleeping on the ground.

She taught herself how to create sleeping mats from plarn and began working with Lafayette Transitional Housing Center (LTHC) Homeless Services. She made a few tweaks to the original idea and formed a Facebook group and invited volunteers to help. Within a year, she had a team of 5-10 faithful volunteers who met once or twice a week at LTHC to crochet the mats. The group has grown and expanded its service work. Currently, it has 18 - 20 members.

The crafters, who have switched from knitting to crocheting for speed and simplicity, use plastic bags that are in good shape to cut them into strips. The strips are then tied end to end and rolled into balls just like yarn would be. The crafters then start crocheting away — making mats that will be the size of a sleeping bag when they are finished.

“Yarn 'n Plarn's purpose is to bring comfort to folks,” Julie explains. “Those receiving hand-knit or crocheted items range from the homeless to folks in a care facility who never have a visitor or family member stopping by.

To date, approximately 300 sleeping mats and 250 bags have been made. At any given time, two to six clients at LTHC are “on the list” for a sleeping mat. Sleeping mats take three weeks to six months to make.

When asked why she gives back, Julie said, “All of these endeavors have shown each volunteer how we can use our passion for crafting to benefit others. There's nothing that brings more pleasure than knowing someone will enjoy our work.”