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Triangulating Goodness: The Sleeping Bag Project 


​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 academic credentials.  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 best.”

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.

The Facilitator             

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 SHARE. 

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.

The 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.​


Posted on 20-Dec-12 by Geier, Eric
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