Fashion-forward philanthropy

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Maine nonprofit’s show will help provide medical supplies to 3rd-world countries

SCARBOROUGH — Tucked away in a warehouse just off Pleasant Hill Road is a small team of volunteers trying to change the world – one syringe, one breathing tube, one bandage at a time.

The Partners for World Health, a nonprofit started in 2007, collects discarded, but unused, medical supplies that hospitals traditionally throw away when a patient checks out of a room. The group sends those supplies to countries where they are desperately needed.

Elizabeth McClellan started the organization after realizing while working as a nurse in the Middle East that many hospitals around the world need the supplies American hospitals routinely discard.

“This is never used, still in the package,” McClellan said, holding up a handful of wrapped syringes. “All of this would have gone to a landfill.”

McClellan, who works part-time as an administrator at Maine Medical Center in Portland, said she has made it her goal this year to convince every hospital in Maine to participate in the organization’s medical supplies recycling program.

“Since January we’ve sent medical supplies to 15 different locations,” McClellan said. “It saves it from going to landfills, saves the hospitals the costs of disposing of it and it goes to the people who really need it.”

Currently, she has four warehouses to store the supplies before they are shipped off to countries such as Cambodia and Tanzania. The warehouses are full of discarded supplies, from exam tables and mammogram machines, to laundry and soap.

“This organization is run entirely by volunteers,” McClellan said.

The volunteers not only sort through and organize the bags and bags of supplies, they also transport the supplies from the warehouse in Rockland to Portland. And sometimes, volunteers transport the supplies overseas.

“We do three international trips per year,” McClellan said. “The focus is on philanthropy and culture. We take the medical supplies with us.”

Last November, McClellan took a group of 14 people to Cambodia. The group distributed 1,400 pounds of medical supplies. In April, she will take a group to Tanzania and in November they will return to Cambodia.

She also works closely with doctors and medical staff traveling to other parts of the world, often sending them with packages of supplies. Recently a group of physicians from Brunswick took supplies to Tanzania.

But Partners for World Health doesn’t stop with shipping and distributing supplies. The first Tuesday of every month, the warehouse on Glasgow Road in Scarborough hosts the Global Health Education Series. Medical experts who have traveled to various locations around the world are invited to speak, share their experiences and answer questions from the public.

McClellan said the Glasgow Road warehouse is financed by a generous private donation, but that shipping the 50,000-pound containers to the countries that need them costs between $10,000 and $12,000. Additionally, the organization purchases medicine for hospitals where it ships the supplies.

So, to raise money to cover the costs, the Partners for World Health is hosting the Blue Wrap Project fashion runway show at the Portland Museum of Art on March 30. The event features dresses, bags, ties and art created from discarded blue wrap, a synthetic fabric American hospitals use in the sterilization process for surgical equipment.

“It’s used once and then thrown away,” McClellan said.

Kimberly Clark Health Care donated the blue wrap, which local designers turned into dresses that models will showcase on the catwalk. Clutch bags and men’s ties will be for sale at the event.

Tickets are $50 and must be purchased in advance. Call 885-1011 or go to partnersforworldhealth.org.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements


Designer and artist Mardie Weldon of Yarmouth stands with her dress, made entirely of unused, but discarded, medical supplies from hospitals. The dress, which makes use of surgeon masks, blue wrap and rubber gloves, will be on display at the Blue Wrap Project runway show at the Portland Museum of Art March 30. The event is a fundraiser for Partners for World Health, which provides medical supplies to third world countries.

Partners for World Health founder Elizabeth McClellan stands in front of a pile of recently discarded unused medical supplies that are awaiting volunteers to sort through them. The supplies will be organized, put into zip-lock bags and shipped to countries where medical supplies are difficult to come by.

Two bags and framed artwork that will be on display at the Blue Wrap Project runway show at the Portland Museum of Art on March 30. The bag on the right was designed and crocheted by Lisa McNeil, the other created by Marieta Atienza.

Designers Kathleen Daniels, left, of Hollis and Marieta Atienza of Gorham stand with their creations made enirely of blue wrap, a synthetic material hospitals use in the sterilization of surgical equipment. Partners for World Health founder Elizabeth McClellan holds up a dress and bag designed by volunteers at the Hour Exchange. The dresses will be part of a blue wrap fashion show at the Portland Museum of Art on March 30. The event is a fundraiser for Partners for World Health, which provides medical supplies to third world countries.

Partners for World Health founder Elizabeth McClellan stands in front of a collection of sorted medical supplies collected from local hospitals that her organization will pack and ship to third world countries in desperate need of the supplies.

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