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Asheville volunteer leads charge to help homeless sleep easier using plastic shopping bags

(Photo credit: John Le, WLOS)

News 13's Person of the Week, Cappy Tosetti of Asheville, volunteered to help the homeless for years. Lately, you might say she's really gone to the mat for them.

We may live in a throw-away society, but there are some things that keep piling up. Many of us are swimming in plastic bags.

Believe it or not, the retail staple can be used to make sleeping mats for people who live on the street.

"So, let me show you what I do," Tosetti said to a group at Haywood Street Congregation.

They meet at 297 Haywood Street on the first and third Thursday of the month. If you'd like to donate plastic bags, you can drop them off at the church.

"We like to shop at stores where the bags are nice!" she said with a big laugh. "I'm known as the bag lady!"

"Pull it down, and just pull it together," she explains to the group, called Haywood Street MATters.

"Because these mats matter," she explained.

It looks like a party trick, but what Cappy brings to the party is compassion. She said folks around the world have launched similar efforts.

"I'm passionate because of homelessness," she said. "I know the homeless."

Twice a month, Haywood Street MATters get together to crochet ubiquitous trash into sleeping mats. With a little guidance, Ginger Hewitt made her first one.

"I've actually tried laying out on a deck with it, it's very comfortable," Ginger said. "The nice thing is if they get dirty, you can hose them off."

"Then you loop these together and it becomes a chain of "plarn" -- plastic yarn," Cappie told the newcomers.

It takes 40 hours and 600 bags to make just one mat. The EPA estimates we use about a trillion plastic bags worldwide, but only one in 20 bags are recycled.

That's why Cappy feels good about re-purposing them.

"One thing about homelessness is it's impossible to sleep well," she said. "You cannot sleep well on the streets, and to help them just a little bit more."

Andy Willhide's attending the meeting for the first time as he learned the ropes from the ladies.

"I actually saw this on Pinterest like a year ago," Andy said. "Every time you go to the grocery store, even if you keep the bags, they're just sitting in your house all the time."

Eventually the craft becomes second nature-- just like their instinct to help those less fortunate.

"Now I can't do it because I'm thinking!" she said while manipulating the plastic. "We've become connoisseurs of plastic bags!"

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