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Converting bags to beds

Kaitlin McLean, founder of the charitable organization Bags to Beds, is the recipient of the 2019 Ivory Prize for Excellence in Student Leadership.

When Kaitlin McLean found out that more than 100 people in Salt Lake City freeze to death sleeping outside every year, she couldn’t help but do something about it. The U student had recently seen a video about people making door mats out of plastic yarn and she wondered if the same thing could be made slightly larger for someone to sleep on.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bags to Beds

Bags to Beds aims to reduce plastic waste while creating a resource for individuals experiencing homelessness.

McLean quickly asked her mom to teach her how to crochet. She taught a few friends how to do it too, and soon turned her efforts turned into an organization called Bags to Beds. Since its inception in 2017, the group has donated about 50 bed mats to people experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake City, and it hopes to deliver 150 more this fall.

“Making a bed really only requires three steps,” said McLean. “First, you need plastic bags, which are unfortunately very easy to find. Then the bags are cut and tied in to plarn (plastic yarn). Finally, that yarn is crocheted into a rectangle to make the bed.”

Now in her first year of medical school at the U with bachelor’s degrees in physics and psychology, the former honors student has been awarded the 2019 Ivory Prize for Excellence in Student Leadership for her work. Clark Ivory, former chair of the University of Utah Board of Trustees, established the prestigious award to recognize extraordinary and influential student-led projects that positively impacted the community and/or fostered efforts that have enabled meaningful change. The award includes a $2,000 prize for the recipient and a $10,000 donation to their cause.

PHOTO CREDIT: Bags to Beds

Bags to Beds volunteers have finished more than 100 mats in Salt Lake City alone.

“This award means the world to me,” said McLean. “First of all, meeting with organizations like the Ivory Foundation has been incredibly enlightening and that is an opportunity that doesn’t come often. In addition, the funding will be a huge catalyst for growth as we try to meet the needs of community members not only in Salt Lake City, but in other cities as well.”

Bags to Beds now has hundreds of volunteers in several states, the United Kingdom, Canada and Pakistan. To learn more or to get involved, click here.