Kim Masoner paces. The hall of SUP Cafe is not wide–perhaps 10 feet, with paddleboards on racks lining both walls–so Masoner walks back and forth from her husband, at the entrance, to people sitting at the half-dozen tables in the cafe proper. They watch her, waiting for her to begin the seminar and teach them how to weave trash bags into durable mats like the cushy blue-and-white-striped mat in the small lobby. She walks fast, with nervous energy, but greets friends that trickle in with warmth and a hug.
She clears her throat, smiles and begins speaking to the dozen friends or volunteers who got Masoner’s email for a night of Wine Tasting and Trash Bag Crochet.
The unusual craft was born of both necessity and Masoner’s long-standing mission to rid local beaches of trash and pollution. When she ran out of yarn one day two months ago, the Seal Beach resident got the idea to use a plastic grocery bag instead. It worked, and it wasn’t long before Masoner was crocheting yoga mats, bedrolls and blankets from old shirts, as well as trash and dry-cleaning bags. One bedroll, which she gives to the homeless, means 120 fewer bags headed to landfills.
“It’s super easy, super fun and it really gives you a good feeling that you are making something that will be useful and that will last along time,” said Masoner.
The effort is just Masoner’s latest philanthropic pet project. The one she is best known for is her Seal Beach-based nonprofit organization, Save Our Beach, which operates monthly beach cleanups in Seal Beach and the Los Cerritos wetlands in neighboring Long Beach. Before each clean-up, including Saturday’s in Seal Beach, Masoner demonstrates the crocheting technique to her volunteers. Next year, she will also be teaching the technique to a class of seniors at California State University, Long Beach
Recently, Masoner delivered bedrolls to the university to disperse among the local homeless, and as she was leaving, she got to see one of her bedrolls given out.
“It went to a man named, Don, and to see his smile was priceless,” Masoner said. “As I was driving away, he was rolling it out and trying it. I wanted to stay and watch, but it was inappropriate.”
The beach clean-ups started in 1999. Masoner and her husband, Steve, would take walks down the beach, picking up trash as they went. Passersby asked if they had an extra bag so that they, too, could help. Soon Masoner was organizing monthly beach cleanups.
The dozen attendees of her fourth Trash Bag Crochet seminar include a few recipients of Masoner’s massive email listserve, but the others are a motley group: a family friend, the SUP Cafe co-owner’s mother, a kinesiologist peer. Like Save Our Beach, the seminar is made possible by the not-for-profit legwork that brings its participants into a community: Steve Masoner has been going to his chiropractor, Tommy Gallagar, since 1993, and when the Masoners mentioned their need for a space to hold the seminar, Gallagar offered the newly-constructed SUP Cafe.
“It took a 30-second conversation,” Gallagar says. To him, hosting the seminar is a simple charity, akin to his Sunday trips taking food to the homeless.
Attendees Joe and Sabrina Del Rosario are two surfers, who volunteer with Masoner to help clean Seal Beach each month.
Joe De Rosario doesn’t try to learn, but Sabrina does, noting her knitting experience.
“Knitting was a lot easier,” Sabrina del Rosario admits. “It’d be easy enough to pick up if I had more one-on-one instruction.”
Masoner flits about the dozen attendees, attempting to give them all enough instruction to begin learning; Masoner discovered the process in a video by a church in Chico, and became proficient after about a month of trash bag crocheting.
She provides each attendee with a weaved chain of trash bag strips, enough to begin crocheting layers. The mats are not expensive to make, requiring only a $2.50 crochet hook available at craft supply stores; the real expense is time. Each mat takes Masoner about four to five hours per night for a week to make. The result is a durable, surprisingly cushioned mat.
“Kim does a great job with this–involving the homeless,” Steve Masoner says. “She does a lot of things with a lot of groups for people down and out.”
Masoner sits off to the side, watching his wife work back and forth between the attendees. He works while Masoner volunteers full-time, but he still finds time to give to Save Our Beach. The Masoners don’t have children, so Steve speaks of Save Our Beach as his child, proudly noting its growth in 11 years.
“A parent doesn’t think how long he or she devotes to a child,” Steve says. That child is not measured by how much trash is picked up at the end of the day, but in how it conditions you to care for your home environment, he added. That’s why the Masoners’ hero is not a pro-environmental ubermensch, but a man named Herm Perlmutter, an anti-smoking advocate.
“What he told us is it takes 40 years to change people,” Steve says. “That’s the length of a whole generation. If you change the kids, you’ll change their parents.”
The Masoners have been working to better their environment through Save Our Beach for over a decade and are amused by the recent green trend that has brought their cause into vogue.
“Over the last couple years, the country’s gotten more green,” Steve says. “Kim and I kind of joke, ‘At our age, how did we become hip?’ ”
A demonstration will take place a the beach cleanup at 9 a.m. Saturday near the River’s End cafe, 15 First Street, Seal Beach.