A Northern Kentucky woman is making it her mission to help the homeless and the environment.
The 43- year- old has a special nickname for a reason.
“I’m Shari..S-H-A-R-I but everybody calls me Shari the baglady.”
That’s Shari Petrie, she’s passionate about upcycling plastic grocery bags and making them into mats or bedrolls for the homeless. That’s how she earned the nickname “the baglady”. Shari learned from a group of women in Burlington ,Kentucky. First, how to create what’s referred to as plarn or plastic yarn and then crochet it.
Shari: “ I call this the bag lady movement . And I think it’s because we’re recognizing, number 1, what we’re doing to the environment but more than that ,our need to help people and what better way to do it than with recycled bags. ”
Shari’s booked with presentations at libraries, women’s clubs , scout troops and schools teaching others how to cut ,knot and eventually crochet the plastic bags into the final waterproof ,durable product.
Students at Holmes High School in Covington like 10th grader Maddie Whaley are sorting the more than 22 thousand bags they’ve collected.
Maddie: “Doing it kind of makes you feel good because you’re doing it and impacting peoples’ lives which involves homeless people. You’re giving them things to help them through it. So I feel like I’m helping out the community.”
It takes between 700 and 1000 bags to make one mat which Shari distributes to groups in Lexington, Williamstown and Covington. She says the process isn’t difficult but is time consuming. It takes her about two weeks to create one item, like a bedroll, pillow or cushion to sit on. She alternates the plastic bags so each item is colorful.
Shari:” Probably one of the biggest questions I get is if I paint the bags. You don’t really notice how many different colorful bags there are until you do this or until you talk to me because I guarantee you you’re going to notice how many different colored bags there are now“
According to the Environmental Protection Agency people in the United States use more than 300 billion plastic bags or wrap every year.
Testing one of the mats 17 –year- old Gabriel Glover says it’s a lot softer than he expected. He along with other students heard Shari’s message at one of the schools’ community service meetings.
Glover: “And we kind of fell in love with her cause. She’s inspired us to help our community which is so affected by homelessness. So we saw this as a chance to help kids even in our own school.”
Homelessness effects more than 4000 people in Kentucky. Adrienne Bush, executive director of the homeless and housing coalition of Kentucky says obviously housing is what solves homelessness but providing items like crocheted bedrolls, mats and pillows can be part of an engagement process.
Adrienne: “Where there’s some trust that is built, a relationship that is built, so we can people who’ve lived essentially for years on the street into a shelter.”
Making peoples’ lives a little easier has become Shari, the baglady’s mantra. She’ll go anywhere to teach anyone how to transform plastic bags into useful items.
Shari: “I think it’s a very humbling experience. You really appreciate what you have doing it. I think we have a certain idea in our head of what people experiencing homelessness look like. They look just like you and me.”
Shari’s work is evolving . She has a website and she’s being recorded for a documentary while changing the world one bag at a time.