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Saving Our Sox for the Homeless

Anyone who’s ever been a patient in a hospital – or undergone an outpatient procedure in one– is most likely familiar with nonslip socks. They come in a rainbow of colors, but all have one thing in common: skid-resistant rubber treads to help prevent falls. Some patients take the socks home with them, but, most often, the socks are left behind and then thrown out, after just a single wear.

A new initiative at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is slowly changing that scenario, repurposing the socks for those who regularly battle the outside elements to stay warm and dry – the homeless.

Poppy Bass of Information Services at Penn Medicine, led the effort, breaking down the process into three parts: identify organizations to accept the socks, find a way to collect the socks, and find a place to launder them.

For the first part, she reached out to Laura Lombardo, who, as the manager of Community Relations, knows charitable organizations in the community and the populations they serve. Lombardo struck gold with three that would gladly accept the socks: Prevention Point, People’s Emergency Center, and the University City Hospitality Coalition.

For the laundering component, Bass turned to Victor Jordan of Materials Management at HUP, who approached Crothall, the company that launders all of HUP’s linens. The company agreed to pick up and launder the socks as part of HUP’s standard service and also separate the cleaned socks and send them back with the linens. But they took it one step further: there would be no charge. David Mertins, general manager of Crothall Laundry, told Jordan, they are pleased “to support this worthy cause.”

The third step was getting the socks collected. Bass piloted the initiative with Perioperative Services at HUP, which annually uses more than 12,000 pairs of these socks! Bass partnered with Joyce Stengel,  nurse manager of Periop, to post signs on the unit explaining to patients how they could easily donate their socks to local homeless shelters if they didn’t want them. “Patients usually just take them off and leave them,” Stengel said. Now, these socks are put in the unit’s linen hamper, along with patient gowns, bedsheets and other linens that Crothall picks up.  Every few months, the cleaned socks are delivered  back to HUP, where members of the Communications Department – where Lombardo works – match them by color and size. A true team effort!

Since starting in March of 2016, the Save Our Socks effort has donated more than 1,900 pairs of socks to the charitable organizations. “Warm, dry socks mean a lot to people living on the street,” said Clayton Ruley, who picks up the socks for Prevention Point. He added that the need is so great that distributing the 600+ pairs of socks he’s received only took a few days.

With the success of the pilot, Bass hopes to expand the program to inpatient units. “It makes so much sense. It’s easy and we’re helping people.”

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