WILMINGTON — Using scissors, a crochet hook and plastic grocery bags, Gloria Grooms is making mats for homeless people to lie upon instead of the cold, hard ground.
The project is in honor of her daughter, Jessica (née Huffman) Conner, who in late 2016 died from a heroin overdose in a homeless encampment next to an Interstate highway in California.
According to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Conner was remembered warmly by others in the encampment, “particularly for her penchant for filling sacks with scavenged food items and sharing it with her friends in the encampment.”
Grooms had never crocheted anything before she saw mats getting made from plastic bags at the Ohio Reformatory for Women while she was serving a nine-month prison term. It was while she was there that she received the phone call telling her that her 33-year-old daughter had died.
She thought making all the mats she could and distributing them in this area where Jessica was from would be a great way to remember “Jessie.” Surgery delayed the start of “Jessica’s Mats for the Homeless,” but Grooms is working on the second mat now and has a goal to make at least two a month.
“I thought, well, I can give back and Jessie wouldn’t have died in vain anyway,” said Grooms.
Grooms’ church family at Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church in Wilmington, her friends and her other daughter Brandy all save plastic bags for her.
The creative process includes folding up the bag, straightening the bag up “like so,” folding it again, and cutting off the ends and handles and making strips, she said as she demonstrated. On her couch, there already was a ball of “plarn” — a term combining the words plastic and yarn.
Making the mats and an experience near Jessica’s grave in the New Antioch Cemetery have given Grooms a sense of peace.
She also had wanted to talk to women inmates at the Clinton County Jail, “but they’re so tight now about who they let in.”
“I wanted the girls to know, you know, it’s not that us parents don’t love you, because we do. We have to distance ourselves from them to keep from enabling their habit. And so, that’s what I had to do with Jess,” Grooms said.
She plans to take her mats to Your Father’s Kitchen in Wilmington and also to the Clinton County Homeless Shelter, where she volunteers.
Because they’re made of plastic material, the mats will protect a person from wet ground better than would lying on a blanket, which absorbs water.
“I just want to be able to help someone else out,” she said.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.