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Students, Employees Turn Discarded OR Wrap Into Supplies for the Homeless

Dieruff High School sewing club creates duffel bags, sleep rolls and more


Clever sewing students at Dieruff High School and colleagues at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) are teaming up to repurpose common blue sheets that protect operating room instruments before they’re used. They’re stitching the sheets together into ponchos, duffel bags, tarps and bedrolls and giving them to area homeless people.

The idea took shape late last year when Katie Velekei and Laura Walker, of LVHN’s sustainability and occupational safety departments, discussed it with Melissa Fitzgerald of marketing and public affairs, who’s on LVHN’s Green Team, led by Velekei.

The question: How to turn some of the scads of durable, waterproof sheets that wrap surgical instrument trays during sterilization into useful, low-cost products? The cloths are removed from the trays in the OR before surgery and bagged, then most of them trucked off-site to be recycled. LVHN generates about 10 tons of this “blue wrap” each year.

Their ‘a-ha’ moment

Inspired by an article in a recycling trade journal, Velekei and Walker pondered possible uses for these sheets. One hospital created clothes for a fashion show, recalls Velekei. Fitzgerald suggested asking certified physician assistant Brett Feldman, PA-C, director of LVHN’s Street Medicine program, about how the project might benefit the homeless. Feldman gave them ideas on what would be useful to that population.

Velekei then approached the Sew What club at Dieruff. The students embraced the idea, and they now work on the sewing during their weekly club meetings on Wednesdays. To date, they have completed more than 30 items for distribution.

Laura LaCroix, RN, clinical coordinator for Street Medicine, says people are enthusiastic when she and Feldman hand out the articles at shelters, clinics and in the field. They’ve also received requests for the items from churches and soup kitchens. “People love them and think they’re cool,” she says. “They’re asking for more of them.”

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