2017-05-19 / Front Page

Operation Bedroll, “plarn-ing” for the homeless

By Cathy Cobbs


Brenda Oliver, cultural arts program coordinator for Columbia Center for the Arts Brenda Oliver, cultural arts program coordinator for Columbia Center for the Arts The Columbia Center for the Arts has devised a plan that helps make something one might consider useless (plastic shopping bags) into something useful and desperately needed—and it all involves a little something called “plarn.”

What is plarn? Yarn that is made out of plastic bags, which in turn are crocheted into lightweight bed rolls for homeless people.

“Operation Bed Roll allows us to touch a larger portion of the population who might not know about the arts,” said Brenda Oliver, the cultural arts program coordinator for the arts center. “We feel like this is a good fit for us, and it helps the community.”

Since a soft open in January, the partnering organizations, which include Sonoco Recycling, Environmental Education Association of SC (EEASC), United Way of the Midlands, Sustainable Midlands, City of Columbia, EdVenture Children’s Museum, and Art Ecologie Group, have made and distributed more than 20 bed rolls to the chronically homeless. The goal is to make 150-200 more by year’s end.

Plarn bedrolls are lightweight, easy to carry, and dry quickly.Plarn bedrolls are lightweight, easy to carry, and dry quickly.
According to the blog “Every Woman” on the Lexington Medical Center website, “while a recycled bag might not be your idea of luxury, they are lightweight, easy to carry, dry quickly, don’t attract bed bugs, and provide insulation for those who sleep on the ground. (A bed roll has been found to keep users 10 to 20 degrees warmer than sleeping on the bare ground).”

The Arts Center is a drop-off point for plastic bags, as well as a pickup destination for those who want to make plarn, or crochet existing plarn into the bed rolls. A typical bedroll takes 500 to 700 bags to create, which is about the number that an average American uses in a year.

That plarn effort is not the only thing coming out of the Arts Center. The center has a pottery studio and offers classes in basket weaving, jewelry making, crocheting, sewing, and quilting.

In addition, the center offers an open studio for those who want to use the facilities for pottery. That is so popular there is a waiting list, according to Oliver.

The center also is offering a class called Creative Journeys on May 19, which fosters creative ways to find healing through the arts, specifically for veterans who are suffering with PTSD.

With all these new and emerging programs, the growth of the Arts Center has facilitated one more step—moving into larger facilities.

Now in a 3,000- square-foot space on Calhoun Street, the new space at the corner of Sumter and Taylor will give them 2,000 more square feet, said Oliver.

“This will allow us to expand programs,” she said. “We are excited to make the move.”

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