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Volunteers Help San Diego Homeless And Environment With Handcrafted Mats

Volunteers Help San Diego Homeless And Environment With Handcrafted Mats

Every Tuesday a group of volunteers meets at the Cali Comfort BBQ restaurant in Spring Valley to help the homeless and the environment. The group weaves together strips of plastic bags to make mats for homeless people in San Diego.

The group started in 2010, when Linda Wikstrom heard about a service project involving weaving. She thought her 87-year-old mother, Wilma Groh, might be interested in it. But Groh suffered from arthritis and was legally blind, and Wikstrom said she was reluctant at first to start making the mats.

“So I said, ‘Mom, I have this project for you. I want you to cut our plastic bags and make them into a mat for homeless people.’ And she said ‘No,’ and I said ‘Yeah,’” Wikstrom said.


Groh died a couple of years ago, but her legacy lives on through the volunteers that make up what is now called the Wil-Mat Project.

It takes between 400 to 500 plastics bags to make one mat, and the project already has handed out more than 400 to homeless people.

“We help the homeless with the mats, we help the planet, because each mat keeps about 500 plastic grocery bags out of the landfill and out of the ocean, and I think that’s huge,” Wikstrom said.

Shawn Walchef is co-owner of Cali Comfort BBQ, which has provided production space for the Wil-Mat Project for the past four years. He said restaurant customers also get involved.

“We have customers who bring their bags every week, so that they don’t go into landfills and they bring them here and we get them to the group and they make it happen,” Walchef said.


The mats are about the size of a yoga mat, generally last for more than a year and can be rinsed off easily.

If the county or state bans plastic bags, the Wil-Mat Project is prepared to make the mats out of discarded T-shirts.

“There are 10,000 homeless in San Diego, so we have job security... we’re going to be here for a while making mats for all these homeless people,” Wikstrom said.

The Wil-Mat Project also makes purses, tote bags and small household decorations out of plastic bags. The group sells the items to raise money for other organizations helping San Diego homeless.