Sewickley area crafters go to the mats for World Youth Day

| Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Joanne McDaniel is looking for straps for mats to help young pilgrims at World Youth Day next week in Rio de Janeiro sleep easier and also help those in need.

McDaniel, of Leet Township, a member of St. James Church, where she began the mat-making ministry, said she needs “emergency carry handles” for 20 waterproof mats made of plastic bags. They will be sent with 20 teens from the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh who are attending the event from July 23-28.

The teenagers are leaving on Saturday.

The mats and handles are made by cutting bags, which then are attached and rolled into a ball to make “plarn” — plastic yarn. The plarn is then crocheted to form the mat. It takes about 400 grocery bags or 600 newspaper bags to make one mat, which takes about a month to create.

McDaniel said she has enough mats to send, but about 14 more straps are needed. The straps, which are needed so that the travelers can carry the bags and hold them together, should be 72 inches long with six or seven single crochet stitches, with a “N” or “M” crochet hook.

McDaniel has placed a basket at the St. James gathering space entrance for those who would like to donate the plarn. Those who want to make the mats are welcome to use the donated plarn, and those who would like more detailed directions on how to make the straps also can contact McDaniel.

McDaniel said even if those who are interested in making the straps for the mats can't make them in time for World Youth Day, straps and mats always are needed.

Bishop David Zubik will accompany the teens who will attend a mass presided by Pope Francis. The international event, organized by the Catholic church, takes place every three years and focuses on bringing together youth from all denominations. Men and women attending this year will use the mats as a cushion under their sleeping bags as they sleep on the floor in gyms of schools.

“And, when they leave, arrangements will be made to distribute them to the needy,” she said.

Gary Roney, director of the department of youth and young adult ministries for the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, said he and McDaniel thought it would be a good way for the mats to be delivered to Brazil via the youth.

He plans to pick up the mats from McDaniel before students leave July 20.

After the event is over, mats will be donated to churches and schools in Brazil that will distribute them to those in need.

McDaniel has been leading an effort in the area to make the waterproof mats since early last year when several workshops were held at the church, Sewickley Public Library and Curves in Leetsdale.

Although workshops are held periodically — including a group that meets each Wednesday at Baden Memorial Library — McDaniel said most people work on their own.

She said she is hoping to have other workshops in mid-September or early October at Sewickley Public Library and at St. James.

So far 117 mats have been sent to places such as Africa, Haiti, Jamaica and Brazil.Debby McKeon of Ambridge took 10 mats on two separate trips to Brazil last year. She and her husband, the Rev. Ron McKeon, are part-time missionaries through the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders in Ambridge.

Some of the mats were given to those whose homes had been flooded in Sao Miguel de Taipu, Brazil.

“The people were so grateful, and they were amazed at how colorful the mats were,” McKeon said.

She expects to take more mats when they return to the country in the spring next year.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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