As the rain poured down on Sept. 27, several dozen students and parents gathered inside St. Vincent Ferrer Catholic Elementary School, 1515 Lathrop Ave. in River Forest, to make plarn mats. 

“It’s plastic yarn,” said Natalia Barrera, president of the school’s Parents Club, during last week’s gathering.

Barrera said students at St. Vincent volunteered to collect 5,200 plastic bags starting in May. Last week, roughly 50 students and parents spent their Friday evening cutting the bags into strips, which they then handed to Miriam Carbagal, a Parents Club member, who was busily crocheting one plarn mat at a time. Carbagal said it takes her between eight and 10 hours to complete a single bag. 

“The idea behind this is to help the earth,” said Barrera. “We’re trying to get the plastic out of the wastelands and the ocean. We’re also helping the less fortunate — something that they can take around with them that doesn’t get wet or smelly.” 

Barrera said it takes around 700 bags to make just one plarn mat. The goal, the parents said, is to finish all of the mats by Thanksgiving, so they can pass them out to people experiencing homelessness. One of the sisters at St. Vincent will take the first mat Carbagal completed on a trip to Nigeria to show people there how to make them. 

“One of my patients introduced me to this,” said Anita Gallo, a Parents Club member who is a physical therapist by profession. “I went to their church and they showed me and I asked if we could do it at the school.”

Carbagal said the initiative involving the plarn mats is only the most recent environmental and social project that students and parents at St. Vincent have collaborated on. In May, for instance, they sent recycled crayons to an organization that remolds them for children who cannot hold crayons normally. 

“We’re just trying to get the kids to understand that there is stuff out there that needs their help,” Carbagal said. “We want to them to make a difference.”


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