The old mantra of ‘waste not, want not’ has benefited those in need across the world.
Longtime East Kildonan resident Sonia Michalyshen, who now lives in Oakbank, and Westwood resident Phyllis Reader were honoured by Lt.-Gov. Philip S. Lee (on behalf of Gov. Gen. David Johnston) with the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award in a ceremony at Government House on Feb. 11.
The awards, first handed out in 1995, "recognizes living Canadians and permanent residents who have made a significant, sustained, unpaid contribution to their community in Canada or abroad", according to the lieutenant governor’s website.
Michalyshen and Reader co-founded International HOPE Canada Inc., a volunteer-based non-profit organization that collects and distributes refurbished medical equipment and other sterilized medical supplies that would otherwise go to waste.
"I didn’t realize that I would be picked as one of the people to be awarded this," said Michalyshen, who was a post-op nurse at Concordia Hospital for 17 years. "Phyllis and I were instrumental in getting it started, but you just don’t think it will amount to something so prestigious as a Governor General’s award."
Reader, who was an operating-room nurse at St. Boniface Hospital, first started initiatives that would form the basis of International HOPE in 1997 before being connected with Michalyshen, who was stationed in Malawi at the time, in 2001.
She said her bosses were cautious when the organization was making its first steps, though she and Michalyshen recalled front-line workers hoped to see the equipment put to good use. She gave the example of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority signing a new contract with a different glove supplier, and all the gloves from the previous supplier would be tossed, even though the expiration date hadn’t passed. That also happened with syringes, needles and masks, they added.
"We were on the cutting edge, at that time, of recycling medical and surgical equipment which now of course is becoming more vogue," Reader said. "We were the forerunners of that concept, so we had to iron out some of the glitches certainly with the manufacturers, hospital administrators and the regional health authority, as well as politicians.
"It’s caught on. People are appalled that this would end up in the landfill."
International HOPE is also able to acquire items that have passed their expiration date but are still usable and single-use items, like suture or gauze, that have been opened but haven’t touched a patient’s blood or body secretions. Reader explained these products are welcomed in other parts of the world, as items like gloves are washed and sterilized until they tear.
"Because it’s single-use-only, it’s chucked, but it’s still clean," Reader said of how single-use items used to be treated. "We would get all of that product, and we can recycle or resterilize that. Instead of throwing it in the garbage, they (nurses) throw it in a mission box."
The organization first operated in the back rooms of Westminster United Church and Holy Redeemer Parish, but was later given 40,000 square feet of space in a Yukon Avenue warehouse.
For more information or to learn how to help out, visit www.internationalhope.ca
Michalyshen and Reader said volunteers are always needed to sort and pack items.
Other Manitobans to receive the award this year were Steinbach’s Julian Austin, Teulon’s Nancy Fleury, and Craig Houston and Robert Raymond Williams, both of Winnipeg.