A former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy, Veronica Marella remembers feeling sad during her morning drive to work. As she neared her post at the University of Southern California Medical Center, she would see people who were homeless sleeping on the sidewalk with nothing underneath them but the cold, hard ground. The memory and the feeling stayed with her as she moved on with her life and into a new career as a surgical technologist at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance, CA.
One day, as she was setting up an operating room for an orthopedic surgery, she noticed that large tray wraps were being removed from sterilized instrument trays and tossed into the trash. These wraps ensure that instrumentation remains sterile until it is inside the operating room (OR) and ready to use. The wraps are removed from the instrument trays and discarded outside the OR before the patient ever enters the room.
A seamstress who loves to sew and craft, Veronica told a coworker that she was sure the wraps could be turned into something new. She set a few aside — outside the operating room — and took them home that evening. As she looked at the 4-foot square tray wraps, which are water repellent, heat absorbent, and machine washable, she remembered her early morning drives to work and her homeless neighbors sleeping on the cold ground. Veronica realized that she could turn two tray wraps into a sleeping mat. With the addition of a couple of pieces of elastic, she was able to roll the finished mats (yoga mat style), making them easy to carry. The du cOeuR Project was born.
As Veronica says, “All it takes is a creative mind and a caring heart to help others and our environment.”
Veronica returned to work the next day and reached out to the OR Director at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center to show him the mat and ask for permission to begin collecting the wraps. She was surprised to receive enthusiastic approval within two days. The Marketing Director at Providence set up a bin for her, and coworkers began filling the bin with wraps. Veronica takes the wraps home at the end of each day.
Each evening and over the weekend, Veronica sews and sews. She estimates that she spends two to three hours each weekday — and more on weekends — turning the wraps into mats, spreading the word about this project to other ORs, connecting with agencies and ministries that serve the homeless population, and distributing finished mats. As of the end of March 2019, Veronica has distributed 2,760 mats through the du cOeuR Project.
“I’m hoping what I have created will inspire others to see outside the box and use those resources they have in front of them to help the homeless in their communities,” said Veronica.
Veronica truly has a heart for service. It’s no surprise that the name “du cOeuR” comes from the French term which means “from the heart.” The capitalized O and and R give a nod to the source of the wraps and Veronica’s many surgical colleagues in Torrance and nearby San Pedro who help collect them.
Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center has praised this project for taking the hospital’s mission to care for the poor and vulnerable beyond its walls. By finding a practical use for something that wasn’t previously considered reusable, Veronica was able to give something essential to another person. Rick Fridrick, director of Mission Leadership at Providence, said, “This is obviously part of who this caregiver is.”
Along with her two partners, Registered Nurse Fernando Ovando and Surgical Physician Assistant Navjot Kaur, Veronica has founded the du cOeuR Project Ministry, a non-profit that was established this year. The trio hopes to expand the work of the du cOeuR Project. Already the project has gone nationwide. Veronica and her partners have inspired and helped other medical professionals begin similar projects in hospitals across the country, as well as at additional Providence hospitals in California. The du cOeuR Facebook page links how-to videos and includes photos from many wrap repurposing projects.