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Out of the landfill, woven into a purpose: Becky's Beds of Bags helps Lincoln's homeless population
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Out of the landfill, woven into a purpose: Becky's Beds of Bags helps Lincoln's homeless population

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Becky's Beds of Bags

Becky Topil makes beds for the homeless out of plastic bags.

A teenage boy has collected hundreds of crisp (or potato chip) packets to fuse together to create sleeping bags for the homeless. Buzz60’s Chloe Hurst has the story!

It’s a familiar household phenomenon: The buildup of plastic shopping bags that always seems to grow and often sits untouched.

Retired teacher Becky Topil noticed plastic bags building up in her house during the pandemic and was determined to find a better fate for them than the landfill.

So she began repurposing her and others’ stockpiles into beds for people experiencing homelessness and has found support for her efforts through a growing Facebook group.

In November, Topil came across a woman in the Kansas City area who was weaving “plarn” into thick mat-like surfaces that can be used as beds. She decided to try it for herself.

Becky Topil

Topil

The plastic yarn is created by tying bags together into a strand, Topil said. Each bed uses 700 bags.

While she teaches English as a second language online part of the day, Topil felt this project could be a fulfilling way to spend her days at home.

“I've got all day and I've got bags and I know I can get more bags," she said.

Becky's Beds of Bags

Becky Topil poses with her first bed made of plastic bags.

While she has a background in crocheting, it took time for her to learn the hand crocheting technique used to construct the beds. Her first one took about two weeks to complete, she said.

“I redid it three times until I figured out how to do it,” she said. “I think I'm getting better as I go, which is the case with anything that you start to do, and I've learned a lot since I've started.”

She recently completed a bed from start to finish in less than three hours.

“I love to crochet, and I feel like it’s something … I can do and I'm going to use it, and use it to help people,” she said. “All of those bags are not going into the landfill anymore, which is a great feeling too.”

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On Jan. 4, Topil donated her first 10 beds to the People’s City Mission. She included a blanket, mask and note reading “You Matter” with each.

People’s City Mission CEO Tom Barber said they were given to homeless men who choose not to stay at the shelter.

Becky's Beds of Bags

Topil's first 10 beds, which she donated to the People's City Mission.

He said the options for shelter during the winter are very limited in Lincoln and donations such as Topil’s help ease the struggle so many are going through during the pandemic.

Topil has built a community for her project through a Facebook page titled “Becky’s Beds of Bags” that now has more than 600 members. Topil posts updates when she finishes a new bed and fields questions about how to get bags or plarn to her.

She refers to those who donate as her “angels.” 

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“It's been so great, it's so heartwarming,” she said. “It just makes me feel so proud of the community that I live in.”

The donations don’t come just from Lincoln. Topil has friends and family from Kansas and Colorado sending plastic bags and plarn to her. Additionally, an author friend in New York connected her with a group of youth that wanted to donate to her efforts.

Becky's Beds of Bags

Topil includes a mask and "You Matter" card with each bed, as well as a fleece blanket.

Topil has no plans of stopping her operation anytime soon. In fact, she’s set a goal of completing 100 beds by the end of 2021.

The process of weaving the beds can be physically taxing, and Topil often feels her hands getting sore, but the thought of helping others keeps her going.

“I think about, yes, maybe my hand aches a little bit, but it's nothing compared to what people are going through now that are homeless,” she said. “And if I can help people become more comfortable, then that matters more to me.”

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Reach the writer at lstephens@journalstar.com or 402-473-7241.

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Luna Stephens is a journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is originally from Lawrence, Kansas and is passionate about the transformative power of journalism.

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