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I made the newspaper again! This is an article that was done on me in the February 19th edition of the Farmland News.




Making A Difference In An Unusual Way
By Tim M. Churchill

“Paper or plastic?”
How many times have you heard that question, especially at the grocery store (many stores make no such offer at all)? With the world becoming “greener” every day, several people will ask for paper. However, plastic is so much easier to carry when moving your purchases from your car to your kitchen. You can easily carry a couple in each hand, and I’ve seen people line their arms with three or four bags per arm!And, since the plastic bags we all get at Wal-Mart, at the local grocery, or even at the local restaurant when we call in a “to go” order cannot be recycled, something has to be done about them. Perhaps you didn’t know the bags are not recyclable; I didn’t either until a couple of years ago.But, other than re-using the bags, such as carry-out orders from eateries, what else can we do about them.

Meet Bob Dewille
Bob Dewille from West Unity, Ohio, has found a use for the bags, one that eliminates thousands, if not millions, of bags headed for our landfills.
Bob turns the bags into sleeping mats and donates them to the homeless. Bob is a retired/disabled machinist who was hurt on the job several years back where he injured and caused extensive nerve damage to his neck, shoulder, upper back and right knee. Injuries that still hurt and aggravate him to this day. He hasn’t let his retirement and disabilities from that job didn’t slow him down much, in fact his energy today may be fueled by his passion to help others. Although he admits that sometimes he weaves through painful flare ups in his neck and shoulder. Before we get into the “how” of Bob’s mats, perhaps we should look more closely at the “why”. Everything became much clearer when I visited Bob in his house, which serves as a sanctuary to an abandoned dog he rescued and adopted named Max.

From Van Wert To West Unity
It seems that Bob arrived in West Unity about 10 years ago, after residing in Van Wert. “I was looking for a Christian community, and I heard West Unity is in the ‘Bible Belt’ of northwest Ohio.”“And, no bars!” He had found himself a new home. The landlord told him he could do whatever he wanted with it. Then to the surprise of the landlord, Bob suggested they go to a local bank and set up an automatic withdrawal plan for his rent.The landlord had never had a tenant ask to do that before!Next on his agenda, Bob wanted to find a church home. After finding one, he became involved with its food pantry. For quite a long time he helped underprivileged people in the area, but he was looking for more; he felt something was missing inside him; he wanted to find a ministry, a new mission to help others.

He thought back to when he was younger, and a neighbor lady, Mrs. McLaughlin, hired him to do odd jobs around her home. One day, she asked him what he wanted to do with his life… what he had to offer others. She wanted him to find a “ministry,” one which served others, and would give his life renewed purpose and meaning. Some years later, actually about three years ago, he was visiting her in a nursing home in Medina, and she showed him how to crochet mats. She was 95 years old at the time!
He had never heard of such a thing. In any event, he did learn to crochet small mats from, of all things, grocery bags. But that didn’t fulfill his desire to serve others. And he really didn’t enjoy the crocheting as much as she did. Thus, he started remembering his scouting days when he had to weave baskets tight enough so they would actually hold water. “I began experimenting with weaving mats rather than crocheting them, and thus the ministry began,” said Bob.

Time For A Loom
Bob couldn’t find any looms that would serve his purpose, “So I tried creating onemyself. “I wasn’t satisfied with my schematics, so I brought it up to my Pastor, who was an architect in his former life.”It didn’t take long for Pastor Greg Coleman to not only come up with an idea for a loom, but he actually made Bob one. The two of them, Bob and Pastor Greg, then created Mat Weaver’s Ministry, with its very own mission statement, “Pick up your mat and walk.” After much trial and error, Bob finally came up with the proper technique to weave a mat or two a week.  All this was done without any outside help, or instruction to give him the direction he sought. Eventually, Pastor Greg created two more looms and Bob went on to train and teach both Larry Eicher, a 77-year old, of West Unity, and Sheylee Henricks, 16 years old, of Edgerton, how to make mats. It took some time, but they both caught on, and are still making mats today.

More Looms Needed
Bob shared, “I would love to have more looms, but they are time-consuming to make, and at $65 a piece for parts, some money would need to be raised.
“However, I am still working on adding new looms. He showed me his loom, which had a partially completed mat on it. He also showed me his stack of plastic bags (he informed me that it takes about 1,500 bags to make one 3×6-foot mat), along with the cutter he uses to slice off the bottom and the handles of each bag. “I don’t throw anything away,” Bob said.  “I use the trim pieces to stuff pillows, which I also weave.” He added, “I have several thousand bags stored in my shed, at the parsonage of the church, as well as at the homes of friends and neighbors.”

Finding Bags
Where in the world does one find more than 250,000 bags, which is the number he has already used to make mats? “I get them from neighbors, local churches, service clubs, actually anywhere I can,” he remarked. “People know me around West Unity, and they are extremely generous.” Bob’s mats have been distributed in Toledo, Defiance, Fort Wayne, and all around Williams, Defiance and Fulton counties. Most of the time he prefers personally delivering the items to those in need; however, some are given to service groups to distribute. “I really enjoy the personal contact.” With each mat, he also includes a pillow, a hat, socks and a mylar blanket.
(As a side note, a mylar blanket along with the mat can make a difference of 40 degrees to a person sleeping on the ground.) He rolls everything up inside the mat, that way the homeless person can roll up everything in the morning and carry it wherever he/she wants to go.

Helping A Veteran
One of his favorite stories involves a homeless veteran he met in Defiance.
Bob saw the man on the street, stopped and went over to him asking, “Are you homeless?” The vet, unshaven, dirty, and bedraggled, responded, “Yeah, what of it?”Bob then asked him, “Are you vet?”  The man replied, “Yes, I am.” Bob took him to get something to eat, then handed him the mat, hat, etc., along with a $20 bill. Several months later, Bob was in the parking lot at the West Unity United Methodist Church where he helps serve a community meal on Wednesday evenings, when a man
stopped across from him, with a mat rolled up and tucked under his arm. He was clean-shaven, neatly dressed, and seemed to have it together. The man looked at Bob and asked, “Are you the person who gave me the mat?” I answered… “yes.” The man returned the mat, and said it was special and asked Bob if he would give it to another homeless vet like he was. Then the man reached into his coat pocket and returned the $20 as well. That’s just one of the personal stories Bob relayed. Many people, some still homeless, have come up to him and thanked him for their mat, pillow, hat and socks.

Positive Responses From The Homeless
Bob doesn’t always receive positive responses for his generosity, however, it’s not from the homeless people… usually, it’s a service group that is less-than-polite in their response. However, he added, that’s not the rule; it’s the exception.In fact, he stated,“I haven’t had any trouble distributing the mats.
“The main problem is making them fast enough to meet the high demand” He would love to have more looms, plus he would love to teach the process to others, if he had the room or a place to hold weaving classes. And to think this all began with an elderly neighbor teaching him to crochet mats, and his Boy Scout days, where he was taught how to tightly weave a basket.

Combining the two has created an article which has little commercial value, but untold emotional and personal value. Bob wrapped up our conversation by saying that we need to look at, not past, the homeless. “They are people, too!”

Note: Farmland News would like to thank Bob Dewille for sharing his story.

Tim Churchill lives in Delta, Ohio and he served as a teacher and a counselor for more than 40 years. He lives by the motto of “Live well, Laugh often, Love much.” FN

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