Outgoing first grader creates Mats of Grace, usable items from recycled bags

Annika Jordan Wiegrefe, outgoing first grader from Grandview Hills Elementary

Annika Jordan Wiegrefe, outgoing first grader from Grandview Hills Elementary

By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News

First grader Annika Jordan Wiegrefe has been on a mission to make 100 sleeping mats or blankets for homeless people. 

The idea was sparked after a family conversation about how to best use talents to help those in need. Through her two-year volunteer experience with Bags of Grace, she learned of the plight of the homeless.

So the young Grandview Hills Elementary student – who is passionate about the creative arts and recycling – began a project to weave recycled, plastic shopping bags to be useful as mats or blankets for those in need.

Not only have schoolmates donated hundreds of plastic bags but she recruited help in weaving from groups including her GHE first grade class.

Mom Jennefer Jordan helped teach GHE students how to weave. 

“It was hard for some of the kiddos to understand but they didn’t give up,” said Jennefer, after the session with Mrs. Reeves’ 1st grade class in mid February.

Prior to that teaching session, Jennefer cleaned and dried more than 723 bags. Then the bags are cut into usable pieces, some GHE 4th and 5th graders have been helping with that.

It takes about 700 bags to weave a 3.5-foot x 6-foot mat using the basketweave technique, Jennefer shared.

Annika’s goal is to weave 100 mats and expects to use some 70,000 plastic bags. There is a donation box at the main entrance of GHE during school hours. 

“I think this project will take at least a year,” Jennefer said.  

The mother-daughter duo will donate the mats in increments of 10 to Mission Possible Church Under the Bridge participants during the Bags of Grace distribution. 

It is through Annika’s volunteer experiences with and for the homeless that she has gained an appreciation for their needs, her mom says, and the impact that small gestures like a blanket, snack, or water may have. 

“We are still working on a name for our project, but our objectives include showing the homeless of Austin grace, compassion, and (how) they are valued,” Jennefer said.

May 2022 from Annika’s mom Jennefer:

“It’s definitely been a lot of hard work, but fun and rewarding to see the kid’s progress. It brought Annika’s class closer together and taught them that they CAN do hard things,” Jennefer said. 

Despite being 98 mats short of our 100 mat goal, we have trained (17) 1st graders and approximately (20) 4th & 5th-grade students how to weave. We have completed 2 mats, however, 3 more are in the process. It has been slow-go due to being able to train only 4-5 kids a week for about 30 minutes during their breaks at school. Annika and I have plans to continue to weave more mats and hand them out in groups of 10 over the summer…and start a weaving club at GHE next year.

We have embraced the fact that is a marathon of a project, not a sprint.

Our project has inspired the older classes to think of other ways to recycle, reduce, reuse…and has spurred on the development of a couple of environmental entrepreneurial projects and a club called “Save the Seas from Styrofoam.”

If anyone is interested in helping (weaving, bag donations, publicity, etc.) over the summer, they can contact me or Annika at matsofgrace@gmail.com.