Guidance counselor aims to help homeless

Published 10:32 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A love of crocheting and a calling to help the homeless in Suffolk led Sarah Catlett, King’s Fork Middle School’s lead guidance counselor, to Operation Bedroll: Conserve, Crochet, Care.

Kids gathered after school to learn how to make “plarn,” or plastic bag yarn to create crochet sleeping mats for the homeless population. Catlett and her husband, Andy, helped teach the kids.

This isn’t Catlett’s first project to help the homeless population. She and her husband served at a community supper for many years. Unfortunately, they had to stop due to time constraints visiting family in Roanoke.

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“I crochet in the car, and I told my husband that I’m on my last project and I need another one,” Catlett said.

In search of a new project, Catlett’s friend, Betty Michael, directed her towards Operation Bed Roll, and once she looked into the project, she was hooked. Her plan is to construct 100 mats for the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk before its next winter Night Stay Program.

Catlett has been collecting plastic grocery bags for the project, and she has amassed several hundred for her endeavor. It can take anywhere between 500 to 700 plastic bags to construct a 2.5-by-6 foot sleeping mat. The bags also construct a carrying strap and straps to tie the mat up.

Catlett hopes this can spread to every Suffolk school and the community so that they can reach their goal of 100 bed rolls.

Not only is this valuable for the community, but the youth that get involved can also benefit from participating in the project.

“As educators, it’s important we give them this thirst for knowledge, but it’s important to make them well-rounded and knowledgeable people,” Catlett said. “This included mentoring for the children and it provides them workforce readiness skills — collaborating, creativity and problem solving.”

The students had the chance to work side by side with adult volunteers and even some of their own teachers and administrators.

“It’s like our own assembly line,” Catlett said.

One student in particular has spent time watching Netflix and making plarn in her spare time. Noelle Ingram, 13, is a seventh-grade student at King’s Fork Middle, and she has taken the project to heart.

“I really like helping people who need help,” Noelle said. “It doesn’t take much time at all. I can watch Netflix and do it.”

She has only known about the project since April and has already started to spread the word. Noelle attends Grove Baptist Church, and she and her youth pastor have made plans to make this a church-wide effort.

Noelle is also happy that this serves a dual purpose — conservation and community service.

“The plastic bags stay on the earth forever, but we only use them once,” Noelle said. “It’s not balanced, but this is making it balanced.”

Operation Bed Roll originated in Greensboro, N.C. with that city’s field operations and police department, and Catlett reached out to Tori Carle, their recycling educator, to learn the ropes and make sure she had a sound operation.

Catlett is happy to have students and her co-workers involved, but there is still a need for those that crochet.

“You have to have some arm strength to do this,” Catlett said.

Those interested in donating bags or donating time to the cause can contact Catlett at More information on the initiative can be found at and tutorials for the process can be found on YouTube by searching “Operation Bed Roll.”