Pierson Lett

Daniel Dye / The Herald

Elmore County High School senior and Beta Club president Pierson Lett stands next to more than 35,000 plastic shopping bags ready to be transported to an organization in Auburn which will be made into sleeping mats for the homeless.

Elmore County senior and Beta Club president Pierson Lett never expected the community of Eclectic to come together the way it did in support of the club’s annual service project.

The club collected plastic bags to be shipped to an Auburn church’s outreach ministry which weaves the bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. 

Because the community continued to donate bags, the project extended beyond the one month he and club members estimated it would take to complete. 

The project is now in its fourth month.

“People can surprise you,” he said. “I expected 5,000 bags and we ended up with 34,000 bags.”

Lett said it takes around 1,000 bags to produce one mat.

He expected the project would remain inside the walls of the high school, but it touched many more places in Eclectic.

“Eclectic is a strong-knit community,” he said. “I was able to get to the pastors of the churches.; they were willing to help out in a heartbeat. The middle school was willing to help out. The camaraderie of the community to step up and help out is just unbelievable.”

The school’s Beta Club members are required to complete a community outreach project each school year.

“The students run their ideas by us (the club sponsors) and we get approval for the projects,” club sponsor and ECHS teacher Rosa Stokes said. “The Beta Club is based on honor and service and leadership. The officers really run the club. We’ve done different things, but we try to keep it local.”

Lett’s original idea for the club’s annual project was to recycle plastic shopping bags. 

Lett called Hercules Poly, a local manufacturer of plastic bags, and soon changed his thinking.

“Just seeing the problem of pollution and waste in the world and seeing plastic bags as being single use concerned me,” Lett said. “I contacted Hercules to see if there was a way to start a drive here. The CEO said they did not recycle bags, but they donated the bags to a ministry in Auburn. It started as a recycling project. Now, it is helping out the homeless.”

Lett said he and his fellow classmates have been folding and placing the bags into boxes since late October. 

“I’ve had five, 10, sometimes 15 other people helping me fold the bags,” Lett said. “We’ve been folding bags for eight weeks every day after school. I’ve put in around 40 hours folding bags.”

Lett said the bags will be delivered in the coming weeks.

“The mats help provide insulation from the ground,” he said. “The mats can roll up and are portable.”

ECHS principal Wes Rogers is proud of the club for the effort it took to make a positive impact in the community.

“We bounced around a couple of different ideas,” Rogers said. “I’d never heard of these mats when Pierson brought it to me. Just very proud of Pierson for leading the way and very proud of our Beta Club. They’ve been very community driven and it is just a very special project this year.”