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They say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. It’s a familiar adage that is very much evident in the provincial linen service and in the community organizations it works with.
Not surprisingly, linens and garments from health-care facilities get stained in the course of patient care. Many items, no matter how often they go through the wash or how many cleaning products are used on them, end up so badly stained they can no longer be used in a clinical setting even though they are hygienically clean by all laundry accreditation standards.
Until recently, a lot of those badly stained items ended up in a landfill somewhere. But now, many items – or at least pieces of them – are getting a second life, benefitting both needy people and animals in the process.
“Over the past year or so, we have connected with all kinds of charities across the province,” says Jackie Belanger, a manager at K-Bro. “These organizations are keen to accept these stained linens and they are finding all kinds of uses for them. It’s really quite inspiring.”
One of those benefactors is Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Swift Current. Every month, members of a church sewing bee get bags of unusable bed linens from K-Bro. What happens next is pretty special.
“We have a group of ladies in the community who take these bed sheets and pillowcases and make them into all kinds of garments for babies and small children,” said Trudy Stusrud. “These items are then put into bundles, which are then shipped to various charitable organizations in developing countries. Most of the items we make and send out are for babies between six and 12 months old.”
Each bundle they create contains two receiving blankets, two wash cloths, two undershirts, two sleepers, four diapers, and one jacket.
“For more than 10 years, I have made up bundles for babies from flannels,” said Lenore Wentland, who coordinates many activities of the bee. “These bundles are then sent to our Lutheran World Relief office in Winnipeg. From there they go by rail to a port. Then they are loaded on a ship and sent to refugee camps in Syria, Liberia, Tanzania, and Angola.”
So far this year, bee members have sent 251 bundles, 1,002 diapers, numerous receiving blankets, baby blankets, and quilts to refugee centres overseas.
“The ladies use only the clean and useful portions of the linens we get,” explained Stusrud. “That way, no stains end up in the new garments they sew. They are very efficient and use everything they can. For example, the stain-free parts of one bed sheet were made into 10 cloth diapers. Only a few small sections were discarded.”
Recently, members of the bee made 188 diapers out of the remnants of 10 bedsheets that could no longer be used. They also made dresses for very young girls out of used pillowcases. As well, very thin pieces of flannel are used to bind the quilts they sew and donate.
“It’s so appreciated, getting the sheets for free,” added Stusrud. “At garage sales, we’d have to pay at least $3 for them, which can really can add up.”
The flannels the church gets from K-Bro are prized due to their relative scarcity in the local community.
“It’s getting harder and harder to come by flannel. Over the course of a summer, I used to collect about 20 bags of it from garage sales. This past summer, I managed to get just one. So the flannels we get from Jackie [Belanger] and her team are really helping us continue this good work.”
But the giving doesn’t stop there.
K-Bro donates non-stained flannels, flat sheets, pillow cases, surgical discards, and bath towels to Harvest Community Centre, an agency in Regina that provides employment for adults with intellectual disabilities.
“We also send personal clothing and blankets that have remained in our lost and found for more than 30 days to places like Soul’s Harbour Rescue Mission in Regina and homeless shelters like The Lighthouse in Saskatoon,” said Belanger.
Donated linens are also benefitting friends of the four-legged variety as well.
“K-Bro helps us out with lots of under-pads, which we, in turn, use as washable pee pads for all our pups in care,” says Taryn Nixdorf with Bright Eyes Dog Rescue. “This is huge for us because, as you can imagine, puppies can be messy! Not only is this a more eco-friendly solution to the usual paper and plastic pee pads you can buy at the store, but it saves us from having to buy those or find other alternatives. This means we have more money for medical bills, which is generally our largest expense. The more we can get donated, the better.
“Each week Jackie [Belanger] sends us an email letting us know when the linens are ready to be picked up, and we go ahead and grab them once they’re ready. It’s super quick and it means the world to us. We love that one person’s trash is literally our treasure!”
Jasmine Hanson with the SPCA agrees. “I can most certainly confirm that we receive donated linens from K-Bro! We use these linens on a daily basis for our regular care of animals. We use donated linens during neuter procedures for adoptable cats. We also use their donated linens to care for neglected or abused animals after a mass seizure.”
She says the donations are appreciated by staff.
“Donations like these linens are so important to the successful operation of the shelter. Members of the public often donate pet supplies such as food and toys. Things like linen are less-considered. But they are some of the things we need most.
“Not only do linens help ensure safe handling, they help us maintain hygienic facilities in which we care for and treat the animals,” said Hanson. “The donation of these linens allows us to allocate our resources towards other expenses the shelter may incur, like paying for expensive medical procedures for sick and injured animals. We can also devote more resources towards preparing animals for adoption and for a second chance at life. It's the reliability of donors such as K-Bro that allow us to continue doing the work that we do, which helps over 4,000 animals a year.”
“We’re so glad that these used linens are getting re-used like this,” says Belanger. “It’s great to see them being put to such good use!”
Andrea McKay, manager of the Saskatoon K-Bro distribution centre, echoes Belanger’s remarks. “We are thrilled to be donating to women’s shelters, homeless shelters and animal rescue facilities. And we will continue to support these essential programs as much as possible, as these organizations contribute so much to our communities.”