Little Things Make a Big Difference: Donating Hospital Socks

Imagine 20 pounds of freshly laundered hospital socks going on the feet of people in need, not in the garbage. Ruth Murata-Hultgren, RN, and her fellow PACU Green Team members did imagine it and then helped make it happen.

“We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.” Ruth and the team embarked on a sock-saving trial week and quickly rescued nine pounds of socks slated for the trash.  Sustainability director Brenna Davis had already worked with the Environmental Services department to arrange for proper laundering, getting a green light for distribution from Infection Prevention & Control. Next, an organization on Virginia Mason’s radar as a community benefit partner, a day shelter for homeless women and children, was chosen by community benefits manager Ingrid Ougland-Sellie for the first sock delivery. No one expected just how well it would work out: high-temperature hotel washers were already operating, and Mary’s Place, the day shelter, was along a Virginia Mason courier’s regular route.

“It was a great feeling to hear the socks would be delivered to Mary’s Place,” says Ruth. “Unfortunately right after that delivery, the tragic mudslide in Oso occurred. We decided the next batch would go there, we just needed a plan.”

Patient care technician Atsede Gebregiorgis volunteered to continue collecting socks until 11 pounds were laundered and prepped for delivery. Karin Lowe, a mammography technician at Virginia Mason Bellevue Medical Center, had a friend who could transport the socks to the Oso Relief Center, where they were eagerly received.

“The best part is we are able to help people in need while reducing our waste by 20 pounds,” says Ruth. “It’s awesome to be part of such an amazing team effort!”

Making a Difference Every Day

As a sustainable health care leader, Virginia Mason focuses on doing the right thing for our patients, which includes preserving the natural environment for future generations.

Did you know our energy conservation projects have saved almost 8 million kilowatt hours per year? That’s enough to power 824 homes!

A few more fun facts about our earth friendly practices:

  •  In 2012 and 2013, Virginia Mason was one of only 125 health care organizations in the nation to receive the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ENERGY STAR certification, and only one of three in Washington state. Buildings that earn the EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification use an average of 35 percent less energy than typical buildings and also release 35 percent less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • Our water conservation projects have saved more than 6 million gallons of water per year.
  • Between 2009 and 2013, Virginia Mason diverted more than 2,500 tons of waste from the landfill — that’s the weight of more than four Boeing 747s.
  • We were the first hospital in the region to implement an operating room recycling program.
  • We work with vendors to purchase locally grown organic produce, local grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs, rBGH-free dairy products, and sustainably harvested Pacific Northwest seafood for our cafes and food kiosks.
  • Pike Place Market is now managing the Virginia Mason Farmers Market Mondays in Lindeman Pavilion starting mid-June. The market will offer produce and products to team members as well as the First Hill neighborhood. It now offers greater access for low-income customers by accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). It will also have some matching funds available through the City of Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program.
  • We have signed on to EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge and donate our excess food to local charities, like the Millionaire Club. In 2013, we donated 1024 pounds (853 meals) of food.


  1. I’m glad those hospital socks are being laundered and reused. I often use the ones I received as a patient at Virginia Mason several years ago. They are definitely not “one-shot” items.

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