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MSU Profiles

Networking and camaraderie help the homeless

It was spring 2015 when MSU alumna and Minot native, Peggy Hight, decided it was time to help the less fortunate in her own state. She was visiting her son and family in California, when they visited a church where her grandchildren were weaving Wil-mats, sleeping mats made out of recycled plastic grocery bags.

"I decided this would be something good for North Dakota," said Hight. "We do so many great things, such as missionaries helping those in need in other countries, but we also have a lot of homeless here in North Dakota, especially now, and it's time we help our own too."

The Wil-mat, which is constructed out of 2000 recycled plastic grocery bags, is used as either a cushion to sleep on, or a blanket to cover up with, and was started in 2010 by 89-year-old Wilma Groh. She overcame blindness and arthritis to help San Diego's homeless by weaving the mats. Groh passed away in 2012, but her efforts spread across the country.

Fast forward to spring 2016, and Andy Heitkamp, MSU Veteran Center director, learned about the Wil-mats through Carol Crabbe, American Legion Women's Auxiliary Unit # 26 member.

"Community service and helping veterans is important to us, and we've worked with the American Legion Women's Auxiliary on projects like the ‘Valentines for Veterans', so Carol thought this might interest me," said Heitkamp. "She put me in contact with Peggy (Hight) who put me in contact with Bonnie (Thomas, data quality manager at Minot Air Force Base), and we set a date on campus to demonstrate how to make the mats."

At a local church, Heitkamp watched the weavers in action, and also learned different methods of making the mats by watching online videos. Minot Air Force Base and several Minot State student organizations such as the Veterans Club, POWER Center, Native American Center and Greek life collaborated to provide a demonstration showing how to weave a sleeping mat for the homeless.

"It's really an easy thing to do," said Heitkamp. "It's something you can do in your spare time, and it's actually a real stress reliever. We had one Minot Air Force Base volunteer, and he didn't even realize he had been working on the mats for three hours straight before he even thought about taking a break!"

The March 9 demonstration was an introduction to a project the Veterans Center will continue. Hight's husband, Darrell, made two weaving looms and donated them to the center. The center currently has 26,000 plastic bags from numerous entities, such as Minot Air Force Base, American Legion Women's Auxiliary and multiple campus organizations, and will accept volunteers at any time.

"We want as many groups and individuals working on this as possible," said Heitkamp. "It's amazing how much you can get done when you know people."

The goal for the Veterans Center is to get enough volunteers on a regular basis to produce a couple mats each month to donate to area homeless shelters, Domestic Violence Crisis Center, and any other entity housing individuals in need. To volunteer to weave a mat, contact Heitkamp at or 858-4002.