Weaving community connections

Mike Genet
Several members of the Blue Springs Police Department picked up plastic yarn mats crocheted and donated by Mildred Dahl (front right). Front, from left, Carol Yeager, Amber Westerman. Back, Ashley Zeih, Alan Kintz and T. Benson.

Mildred Dahl has sewed and crocheted for decades. Several decades, actually, as the longtime Blue Springs resident turns 98 in November.

“My grandmother taught me how to do it, many, many years ago,” she said. “I made sweaters and jackets, scarves, made all kinds of things with yarn.”

Dahl and her mother even opened what she said was the first clothing store in Blue Springs.

Several years ago, she started to crochet with “plarn" – plastic yarn made from tightly wound strips of plastic bags. She uses the plarn to make sleeping mats, bags and even hats. Wednesday, thanks to some arrangements through the Vesper Hall senior center, she donated several items to the Blue Springs Police Department.

Chief Bob Muenz said community outreach officers can keep the waterproof articles on hand to give to homeless people, as they already do with backpacks of essentials from the Community Services League.

Before the pandemic, Dahl was a regular at Vesper Hall, and over the past several months she’s had meals delivered from there.

“One of the drivers has become a good friend, and Mildred shared with her that she has these mats that she crochets,” said Marty Bears, Vesper Hall administrator. “She put her in contact with the police.”

“(The driver) said ‘I know somebody that would take them,’” Dahl said. “I told them to come on by, so they did. It was kind of fun.

“Seemed like there were nine police cars there. My neighbors were curious.”

Dahl started her plarn crafts with plastic bags procured by friends from church and Vesper Hall and her grandchildren. A single craft will take hundreds of bags, and Dahl uses different colored bags to create different varying strings, giving the appearance of regular multi-colored works of yarn.

“You have to smooth the bags and then cut them, then make a roll of them,” she said, explaining the tedious process. “You have to make a string of plastic thread.”

Hip issues have limited her mobility in recent years, but not her fingers for crafting.

“It takes a lot of hours – hours and hours,” Dahl said. “But at this age I don’t have a whole lot to do. I can’t get around like I used to, but I can sit and crochet.”

She likes to make the sleeping mats 6 feet by 3 feet. She once donated a half-dozen of those mats to a church group that took them to a homeless camp in Eastern Jackson County. And her latest donation to Blue Springs Police didn’t deplete her supply. There will be more articles available to donate in the near future.

Bears notes that Dahl has also helped with Vesper Hall’s choir and the chimes group over the years.

“She’s just a real go-getter and always wanting to help others,” Bears said. “She tries to do her part in lifting spirits. She’s an inspiration to me and a lot of people she interacts with.”

For Dahl, donating the plastic mats also was a small way to thank police for their help one day last year. She had started to back her car out of the garage on a rainy day, but the car died and she couldn’t get the door open. A neighbor eventually noticed her issue but also couldn’t open the door, so she called the police. When officers arrived, they rigged the door lock, took Dahl back inside and then took the car to get fixed and brought it back.

“They deserve some recognition,” she said.