The OSU College of Medicine overflows with stories of
precedent-setting excellence, from a total re-engineering of the curriculum to
cutting edge research, from nationally acclaimed faculty to students with elite
Without question, these stories are impressive and are the broad
shoulders which hold and elevate the College to great heights. The thread that ties all of those stories
together is a simple one of good-hearted people doing extraordinary
things. Donna Imel, Jane Martin and Dr.
Laura Phieffer are three of those good people, and the extraordinary thing they
collectively do is this: they quite
literally bring warmth to those who need it most.
The Heart and Soul
Donna Imel grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She relocated to Delaware, Ohio about six
years ago after losing her second husband so she could live close to her son
and grandchildren. Incidentally, two of
Donna’s close friends from Delaware had long ago begun what she now calls “The
Sleeping Bag” project; at its inception, the project aspired to provide a warm
sleeping bag to the homeless and was really a “do something” response to a
Central Ohio man found frozen to death under a bridge. Guided by her altruist’s spirit, Donna felt
compelled to not only advance the project but to lead and grow it. And so, the operation known as SHARE (www.shareyourbest.us) was born.
“I knew I needed to start a group to make sleeping
bags. I chose the name SHARE because it
means to take responsibility together, and I believe we need to share our
SHARE earned non-profit status just this year, and its
volunteers include people of all ages.
In approximately the past four years alone, Donna’s team – which
includes four separate groups as well as a number of inmates as the Delaware
County Jail – has produced about 800 sleeping bags for the homeless. The bags are ultimately delivered to soup
kitchens and homeless shelters across Columbus and, in Delaware, small groups
of volunteers simply hand them out to homeless folks on the street.
Jane Martin is the compassionate
linchpin of this story. Married to an
Associate Dean at the College, she met Donna Imel while touring the Delaware
Council for Older Adults with her 90 year old mother. During that tour, Jane’s eye was caught by a
small group of senior citizens in the midst of making sleeping bags.
“Since my mother is an avid sewer,
we struck up a conversation about what the group was doing and became aware of
Donna’s passion for helping the homeless through this sleeping bag project.”
During this conversation, Donna
conveyed to Jane the difficulty in securing “blue material” – a nondescript
wrapper routinely discarded in the operating rooms of every hospital but also,
ironically, the insulating material so crucial to the sleeping bags produced by
Inspired by Donna’s efforts, Jane
spoke to her husband, Bryan, to see if he could help secure more of the blue
material integral to SHARE’s sleeping bag production levels. Bryan reached out to a colleague, explained
the story of “The Sleeping Bag” project and showed her the blue material. That colleague, Dr. Laura Phieffer, knew
exactly what it was and immediately recognized an opportunity.
OSU Difference Maker
Dr. Phieffer loved the idea of
taking waste from the operating room and repurposing it for a cause as
admirable as Donna’s SHARE program. The
“waste” in this case was, of course, the blue material. Its intended use is to wrap certain operating
room instrument trays for sterilization purposes, and it is usually discarded
right after an instrument tray is unwrapped.
Dr. Phieffer spared little time in moving forward and thrusting the
College right into yet another difference making process. The blue material is dropped off at the
Graduate Medical Education office of Dr. Martin – Jane’s husband – where the
staff loads all of it onto a cart and takes it to Dr. Martin’s car.
In summarizing her role in this
process, Dr. Phieffer says, “When I spoke with our operating room staff about a
way we could recycle this material and have it benefit the homeless, it was an
instant ‘what do we need to do to make this happen?’ response.”
Dr. Phieffer believes the OSU
College of Medicine and SHARE partnership has a bright future, and she will
continue to provide Donna with the blue material needed to make more and more
sleeping bags. As Dr. Phieffer noted,
this is a “win-win-win” situation – the College repurposes its waste, the
senior citizens who are part of the production team at SHARE are enabled to
continue turning out sleeping bags and, most importantly, the homeless folks
across Central Ohio will continue to have some semblance of real warmth, at the
very least, to keep their hopes alive for one more night.