CAMDEN — If you've ever been inside a hospital operating room (and conscious), you may have seen workers take sterilized surgical equipment out of large, blue plastic sheets.

Those are called surgical wraps, and even though they are made of plastic, they are not recyclable. At Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center, surgical technician Dana Scarangelli and operating room nurse Ian Menewisch brainstormed ways to avoid having to throw these sheets in the trash, and make the hospital more green in the process.

After being made aware of a woman in California fashioning these items into mats for the homeless, Scarangelli and Menewisch, along with nurse anesthetist Laura Faust, got hospital management involved to help them do the same thing.

For Menewisch, who knits as a hobby, the creative possibilities didn't end with just yoga mats. Soon the Lourdes staff was making sleeping bags and tote bags as well (similar material is often used for jackets and ponchos).

"What's so great about this material is that it's impermeable to water, it's heat-resistant, and it's incredibly durable. You cannot rip it," Faust said. "It's unbelievable, the mounds of these plastic tarps that we have, and what a better way to upcycle them and distribute them to the less fortunate?"

The trio hopes other hospitals will catch on, and to that end they've gotten out into the surrounding community to provide these materials to homeless shelters. Faust said she gave 50 to 70 mats to Pennsauken's police chief, who in turn gave them to officers to distribute throughout the area.

And the people who receive the mats and sleeping bags, she said, are overwhelmingly grateful.

Lourdes is continuing this community effort through the holiday season, handing out mats just this past Saturday, Dec. 8, at Baptist Temple Church in Camden.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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