Sewing Group Helps Turn Medical Waste Into Blankets For Homeless

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VESTAL, NY (WSKG) — At Quilters Corner in Ithaca, a small group sewers gather to work on charity projects.

They’re called the Sew Givers.

They started about five years ago and meet every Tuesday morning to work on projects: caps and wraps for people going through chemotherapy, placemats for Meals-On-Wheels, totes for people who are wheelchair bound. The list goes on and on.

At Quilters Corner in Ithaca, Sew Givers Claudia Mendyka (front-left) and Mary Berry (front-center) work together on a quilt made from surgical waste. Mendyka says the material is slippery and bulky, unlike material traditionally used for quilting. Her machine is a JUKI which is strong enough to go through multiple thick layers of the material. (Sarah Gager/WSKG News)

Among the group is Claudia Mendyka. She started sewing at ten years old.

“I’m an old 4-H sewer,” Mendyka said.

As a retired nurse and a mother of three, Mendyka is compelled to give. She lives in Lodi, and joined the Sew Givers in 2016 when she was new to the area. She joined as a way to connect to her new community.

“I have a skill that not everyone has and I can use it, and I enjoy doing it. So, it’s good, and I met a wonderful group of people,” Mendyka said.

One of their latest projects is making blankets from surgical waste used in the sterilization process. The material is dense and laminated. It’s not like the woven fabric normally used for quilts, but it’s seemingly perfect for this particular project because it’s waterproof and retains heat.

“Suppose you’re having a surgery. That surgeon would need a particular tray of instruments. This wrap goes outside of that tray of instruments when it gets sterilized,” explained Deanna Jacobs, Cayuga Medical Center Neurodiagnostics supervisor.

The wrap never comes in contact with a patient.

The idea for the blankets was inspired by a hospital in Florida, but, in the winter weather of Upstate New York, the group is making theirs thicker and the need is greater.

One person who sees the need is Autumn Miller of St. John’s Community Center, where some of the blankets are brought to be distributed.

Miller said when she gets them, she brings the blankets right out to The Jungle. That’s an outdoor encampment of homeless people near an inlet of Cayuga Lake. The blankets are in high demand out there.

“There’s people that have no shelter that just live out there. So, they basically like make little huts and sleep in the huts,” Miller said. “So, they use the blankets from Cayuga Medical to stay warm and dry, which they work really really good for them. They even put them over their tents.”

Miller said it feels good to know the people living out there are warm. “Especially in these little temperatures and the winds and the high rains. They get wet, really wet, they get flooded out down there so those really help,” she added

The group at Cayuga Medical Center plans to keep collecting materials throughout the year so they have an abundance of blankets before next winter.

Full disclosure: Cayuga Medical Center is a WSKG underwriter.