Local resident Karen Crubaugh puts the finishing touches by trimming extra pieces of plarn on a plastic mat she made for a local homeless man. Photo by SAMANTHA SINCLAIRMurphy Elementary School second-graders sing Christmas carols at the Cherokee County Courthouse in downtown Murphy on Thursday afternoon.

SCOUTING AROUND: Woman creates plastic mats for homeless

   With an artful flair, Karen Crubaugh folds a plastic shopping bag, cuts off the handles and the bottom, then cuts slits on the sides before connecting the slits – revealing one long string of plastic yarn, called plarn. She knots it to the end of the plarn on her already colorful project and skillfully continues crocheting the row, impressing everyone watching her work.
   Even more impressive, the work of art made from simple plastic bags was going to a homeless person to use as a sleeping mat that is cushioning, warm, easy to dry and easy to carry.
   Crubaugh saw a post from Bless My Stitches Quilt Shop in Murphy that mentioned making the plastic mats just a few weeks after she read about people making plastic mats for the homeless. There was a class that night, March 6, at Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville to learn how to use plarn to make mats.
   “I knew I had a million bags. I knew I knew how to crochet. I knew I had the hook,” Crubaugh said. “So I went.”
   There, she learned how to cut the bags to make plarn for crocheting, and started making her first 3-by-6 feet mat.
   “It’s really very simple,” she said.
   The center takes the mats they make to a soup kitchen in Atlanta, but Crubaugh knew there were people here she could help. While volunteering at Murphy Free Methodist Church’s free lunch one Tuesday, she asked a man named Jimmy where he lived.
   After he said he had been camping by the river, she asked if he would like to try out the mat and let her know how well it worked for him. He agreed, and she finished that first mat for him just in time for Christmas.
   She isn’t stopping with Jimmy. Crubaugh is working much faster on her second mat, which she plans to give to a woman she met who sleeps under a bridge in town.
   “I have a sympathy for them in my heart,” Crubaugh said. “It’s really the least I could do for someone in need.”
   Her husband, Mike, said she has put in hundreds of hours making the mats, usually beside him as he watches television. He is concerned about what happens to the mats after she gives them away, but she sees things differently.
   “Karen is the type of person who doesn’t keep score in life,” he said.
   And she admits she isn’t aware of how much time it actually takes to make a mat. She just thinks it’s a great thing to do for people in need, keeps bags out landfills and is a project to fill her time.
   She also doesn’t think she’ll run out of bags to use. The ladies in her quilting group, which meets at Murphy First United Methodist Church on Thursday mornings, have given her their spare bags to contribute to the project.
   Crubaugh said she’d be happy to teach others who’d like to learn how to make mats for the homeless.
   “I don’t think finding a home for (the mats) would ever be a problem,” she said.

Students spread sing while learning
   Second-grade students from Murphy Elementary School shared the holiday spirit by Christmas caroling throughout downtown Thursday morning in a fun twist on a typical educational field trip.
   The 61 kids, all decked out in Santa hats, visited both businesses and government buildings, learning about the history of Murphy and government along the way. When they got back to the classroom, they had an opportunity to discuss what they saw and learned.
   “It’s just a way for the kids to see parts of Murphy and bring Christmas cheer to Murphy,” teacher Tristan Hamby said.
   The children sang “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
   The second-grade class does the caroling field trip every year during the last week of school in December. On Tuesday, the first-grade class visited the nursing home at Murphy Medical Center in Peachtree to sing Christmas carols.
   Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message in the office at 837-5122.