Odessan crafts for a cause

Like many Americans, Linda Henry’s home accumulated more plastic grocery bags than she could keep up with. She said with help from online videos she gained a new hobby that would simultaneously recycle the waste and help others in need.

Henry crochets sleeping mats for individuals experiencing homelessness using hundreds of grocery bags.

“It takes anywhere from 600 to 750 bags and about three days to make one,” she said. “Academy Sports + Outdoors has donated bags to me, and Steak Express calls me about every two weeks to go and get bags from them.”

Machelle Martin, general manager of the Texas Steak Express on 42nd Street, said she was quick to offer help when she heard about Henry’s project to support the area’s homeless. Martin said through word of mouth she has been able to collect two 13-gallon trash bags full of plastic bags at the take-out and delivery chain in the last two months.

Thousands of plastic bags from local businesses and grocers have been donated to ensure the 67-year-old Odessa native does not run out of supplies.

Henry said she started making sleeping mats about three months ago and is able to complete the bulk of her work during her husband’s three weekly sessions at a local dialysis treatment center, which provides her with about 12 hours of available work time.

“It’s a time-consuming process, but if you have the spare time or need a project this is a way to help someone else,” Henry said. “When I’m not working on my mats, I’m working on making fleece blankets for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Shriners Hospitals for Children.”

Leftover fabric from the fleece blankets is pieced together and upcycled to create what Henry calls “blessing bear” keepsakes for Bible schools, nursing homes and other places across the country.

Henry is passionate about contributing to causes that focus on veterans and children. She has a decades-long history of serving with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary at the local, district and state level and her husband is a veteran with a disability.

“I love my veterans and I like doing things for them,” she said.

Henry said she has not given any mats away yet because she is working on solidifying a statewide partnership with the VFW Auxiliary Post No. 2033 located in Woodville. She also wants to team up with a woman in Victoria who is a part of a church group that does similar work for the homeless population utilizing plastic bags.

Henry said she views these projects as random acts of kindness for those in need and enjoys having a retirement filled with purpose.

“My husband asked how many of those mats are you going to make,” Henry said. “Well, I told him, I guess until I run out of bags.”