“I’m a nurse, and the last thing I expected to find myself involved with was a fashion show,” said Elizabeth McLellan, founder of Partners for World Health, a medical nonprofit known for putting to good use what would otherwise be discarded.

When blue wrap – normally used to wrap sterilized medical supplies – started to accumulate in the nonprofit’s recycle bins, Partners for World Health sent it to art schools, where it was used in creative ways, including fashion design. Thus was born the seeds of an idea for a unique fundraiser called Blue Wrap Runway. After a five-year hiatus, Blue Wrap Runway was back May 16, as 20 designers and 26 models wowed the crowd at the University of Southern Maine with evening gowns, pant suits, theatrical costumes, jackets, bow ties and hats, all constructed of a papery fabric that would have otherwise ended up in a landfill.

“When I work with the blue wrap, I get inspired and challenged by all the love and the healing of the whole process of taking care of each other,” said designer Maria Antonieta of Portland. “It’s very motivating.”

“It takes your breath away to see that these gowns were medical wrap,” said Merle Nelson of Cumberland.

Partners for World Health, the only organization of its kind in New England, collects and repurposes a lot more than blue wrap.

“Because of federal regulations, healthcare centers must discard medical supplies that have been in a patient’s room even if they weren’t used,” said medical mission volunteer Melanie Mansir of Gardiner. “But they can be used in the developing world.”

When it was founded in 2009, Partners for World Health sent a shipping container or two each year to countries in need – each container holding up to 18,000 pounds of supplies. Today, the nonprofit ships one or two containers per month.

“We sort, repurpose and repackage,” said operations manager Tina Brown. “Everything that comes in, we find a way to use.”

“We are the only medical supply organization here in New England, and the only medical supply organization (nationwide) that also goes out on medical missions,” McLellan said.

Since Hurricane Maria in 2017, Partners for World Health has sent four 40-foot shipping containers to Puerto Rico, each filled with up to 1,000 boxes and about $250,000 worth of donations. Representatives from Puerto Rico, including pediatrician Jesus Alvelo, sang at the fashion show in gratitude for the assistance.

“The fact that we can take discarded medical supplies and repurpose them for those near and far is so rewarding,” said director of operations Julie Forsyth. “It’s so good to know that everything we’re doing has an immediate impact.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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