Give it UP for Eddie Welsh, RN, of Northeast Philadelphia.
The Jefferson Frankford Hospital nurse collects clothes for patients whose clothing is irreparably damaged during emergency treatment — as it often is for gunshot or other trauma victims — and therefore don’t have anything to wear home when they’re discharged.
Welsh, 50, began stockpiling clothing at the hospital in January 2017. The effort spread to two other Jefferson hospitals, and eventually evolved into “Project Cotton,” named for the ubiquitous fabric. Welsh estimates he’s handed out nearly 8,000 pieces of clothing to hospital patients.
His mission began in 2016 when he was preparing to discharge a patient whose only clothes had been removed and discarded during admission. Welsh gave the patient paper scrubs to wear home. It was raining, and when he watched the patient’s new duds absorb water like a paper towel, he vowed to do better.
“It’s embarrassing to me," said Welsh, who started at Jefferson Bucks Hospital in 2013 and has worked Jefferson Frankford for the last four years. "I’m a nurse. We fix the sick, we feed them, we shelter them, and I was like, ‘Man, what can I do as a nurse to help this guy?’”
Welsh knew that some social workers or emergency room personnel keep bins handy that are filled with basic clothing options, but he wanted more. So he found a tucked-away storage closet on the hospital’s fifth floor and cleaned it out. He installed storage shelves and bought a dozen plastic bins.
“I was doing this secretly," he said. “Space in a hospital is like gold.”
Through friends, he gathered a small collection of donated new and used clothing, but to ramp things up he needed buy-in from higher-ups. He showed the room to his manager, Deb Trauffer, who loved the concept and green-lighted Welsh to go public about his project so other hospital employees could both support it and avail their patients to its service.
Welsh then reached out to Noreen Quinn, a trauma center nurse at nearby Jefferson Torresdale Hospital, where she’s worked for the last 25 years. Quinn had long kept her own small donation bin for emergencies, but Welsh set her up with a full Project Cotton outpost: a closet with floor-to-ceiling shelving and several plastic bins. She then helped Welsh set up a Project Cotton branch at Jefferson Bucks Hospital in Langhorne.
“It changes the way [patients] see health care,” said Quinn, who lives in Moorestown. “Sometimes it cannot be personal, and we like to make it personal.”
Project Cotton has amassed a vast collection of T-shirts, jackets, pants, and shoes for men and women and in all sizes. The wardrobe offerings change with the seasons: more sneakers in the fall and winter, and more flip-flops in the spring and summer. The big item this winter will be sweatpants, which are easy to slip on trauma patients.
Project Cotton’s volunteers routinely host clothing drives, and also place donation bins in participating hospitals’ lobbies. They launder donated clothing off-site before adding them to the collections. Some items, like underwear, must be bought new. To finance the purchase, Welsh and Quinn raise money through bake sales and direct donations.
Welsh marvels at how he has gone from passing out paper scrubs to offering patients clothing in a variety of styles, sizes, and colors.
“I took this career to help people," he said. "I can’t always fix them, but I can make them feel better by clothing them.”
For information about how to donate, email JH_NE_Marketing@jefferson.edu.