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Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Sustainability Idea Connects Hospital Staff, Students and Those In Need

Published in Media Releases Author: CentraCare

A surgical technician in California had an idea to repurpose sterilization materials. Instead of being discarded, the soft, durable and waterproof sheets could be sewn together to make sleeping mats for homeless individuals and animal shelters. She brought her idea to life. And then, she shared it on the internet for others to consider.

Surgical staff members of St. Cloud Hospital took notice and brought the idea forward as another way that CentraCare could benefit others and reduce waste. Having this project include a Future Farmers of America (FFA) teacher and her students at Paynesville Middle School was a community-connecting bonus.

Every day, hundreds of surgical instruments are sterilized in high temperatures using sheets of material that are either 48x48 or 54x54 inches. These sheets cannot be recycled for this same purpose due to infection control, so they had to be placed in the trash. St. Cloud Hospital Perioperative Educator Supervisor Jodi Specht-Holbrook brought the repurposing idea to her employees. After that, several surgical employees, friends and family of employees, volunteered to sew the sheets into mats. St. Cloud Hospital Surgical Technologist Tiffany Fradette knew that her sister-in-law, Natalie, might be interested in turning learning into a community service project.

Paynesville Middle School Students Assist to Create Mats for the Homeless
group photo at the 2019 CentraCare Paynesville Foundation golf scramble

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“I teach a class called 'Food, Fun, and Friends in Agriculture' to 27 students,” said Natalie Utsch, Agriculture Teacher and FFA Advisor at Paynesville Middle/High School. “My license for agricultural education covers a wide range of areas including leadership, food science, animal science — a diversity of life skills. After I was approached about the project, I implored the help of a retired Family and Consumer Science teacher, Jeanne Virant, to get the sewing machines ready and help teach the kids to sew. The kids not only gained some basic sewing skills, they were so happy to be a part of helping someone who had a basic life need — like a bed or blanket.”

The first 19 mats that the students stitched were delivered to Place of Hope in St. Cloud. Fifty mats total have been delivered to Pathway for Youth and Place of Hope. Current homelessness estimates in Central Minnesota are nearly 1,100. The surgical material is not only waterproof, but it retains heat, which makes it an ideal fabric for this purpose. St. Cloud Police Department, Stearns County Homeless Social Workers, Salvation Army and local churches also are interested in having the mats for their emergency community needs.

What do you get when you take:

  • Material that used to end up in the trash
  • Some forward-thinking health care employees
  • A teacher trying to teach students leadership and life skills?

You get a lot of warm, happy hearts.