- Written by Staff
PLANO, Texas — Sure, if you’re in the laundry industry – you’ve got the linen. Who in this industry doesn’t? But what do you do with that linen when it’s torn or stained? While ragging out linen is a common practice for laundry facilities, Lori Birdsong, director of Linens for Animals and her husband Dr. Mark Bussan, have a ‘greener’ idea that is catching on like wildfire.
Birdsong and Bussan are co-founders of Linens for Animals, a 501(c) (3) non-profit that supplies donated used linens to animals in need. In less than 6 years, the organization has dispersed over 2 million pounds of donated sanitized linens to over 2000 rescue groups, wildlife rehabilitation facilities and shelters in 24 states – helping hundreds of thousands of animals.
Until now, most donations have been received from North Texas Healthcare Laundry, HCA North Texas Division Laundry, Crothall, and Angelica. However, Birdsong and her husband are now branching out to accept linens directly from hospitals and hotels.
“It’s a win-win situation for the animals and our donors,” Birdsong says. “We receive donated goods that have been washed and sanitized but have been determined to be unfit for reuse due to stains or tears. Of course the animals don’t care if a towel or underpad is stained. They’re just happy to be snuggling up on something warm instead of on dirt or concrete. And we’re a tax deduction for linen facilities. One facility alone wrote off almost a half a million dollars a few years back based on their donations to us.”
Birdsong explains how her unique calling evolved. “I was playing tennis with a friend one day and I saw the tennis pro tossing balls into a garbage bin. I thought it was wasteful so I told him that I’d take the balls. I brought them to animal shelters so that when dogs get adopted they can go home with a new toy.”
Birdsong’s donations were met gratefully by the first two shelters she approached. However, at the next shelter she was told, “We don’t need balls. If you want to do something for us, we need towels, blankets and linens.” Determined to meet that need Birdsong learned about central laundries and linen facilities through a contact at Baylor Hospital in Dallas. Then she contacted HCA North Texas Division Laundry.
“HCA agreed to allow me to pick up some of their linens that they were ragging out – everything that you could imagine for a hospital bed: blankets, flat and fitted sheets, pillowcases, baby blankets and underpads,” Birdsong says. “Then I found North Texas Healthcare Laundry. SCORE!! Initially they were ragging out everything except the underpads. They couldn’t be ragged out so they were paying people to take them to the dump. Essentially, the underpads were costing them money to dispose of so they were happy to give them to us!”
“They immediately began donating underpads to us,” she said. The sanitized underpads are in high demand at Shelters and Animal Rescues. They’re worth their weight in gold because they are used for so many different things. Once, we picked up 18 bins that had approximately 300 underpads in each. They were distributed to five different local shelters and numerous animal rescue organizations.
As Birdsong’s linen requests from animal shelters grew, so did her donations. She began fielding phone calls from prospective donors looking for a greener alternative than ragging out textiles which would eventually end up in landfills. “Linda Rayne, division director of support services for HCA Far West Division has been instrumental in helping us get the word out to the industry – and we are very grateful to her for all she has done,” says Bridsong.
Birdsong wasn’t the only one asking for help. She also fielded calls from like-minded people concerned about waste and the environment. “I recieved a call once from a woman who had just witnessed 15 bins of sheets loaded for a trip to the local dump because the hotel logo was incorrect. It sickened her to think of the waste and she called me and asked if I could help in the future. I said you bet! I will just need to find the shelters and rescues in your area that are in need of linens.”
It doesn’t happen often, but Linens for Animals has also received requests that they have fulfilled outside of the United States. “Crothall in Los Angeles, is one of the few facilities that donates all of the different items that we need, like the products we get in Texas,” Birdsong said. ”In addition to underpads, they give us blankets, towels, baby blankets and sheets. Just this week we facilitated a load of their donated linens to the Philippines. An organization there took down a pit bull dog fighting ring and they are currently housing approximately 250 pit bulls that are in dire need of linens for bathing and bedding and wound care.”
But Birdsong’s work and donations extend past four legged recipients. “When the tornado in Joplin hit, a Church called us because they needed help for the families and animals that had lost their homes and were living in the Church basement. Then we got calls from a shelter in Oklahoma that was decimated. PetSmart Charities donated a 52-foot trailer that we stocked up with goods from North Texas Healthcare Laundry and HCA North Texas Laundry. To our delight both facilities gave us manpower to bag and load that enormous truck! The truck left Dallas, went to Joplin, dropped product there and then went to Oklahoma to give them some linens and then… on to the flood victims in N. and S. Dakota, and ended its trip in Arizona for the fire victims.”
“Our mission statement is to provide comfort for animals in need,” Birdsong says. And that she continues to do. “When we were called to a puppy mill bust, there were 500 dogs that were served. Some just used blankets for comfort and bedding, others used the sterile underpads for surgical procedures, towels were used for bath time and others just enjoyed not laying on the cold ground. Imagine how it felt to them to be laying on a blanket for the first time in their life!”
Birdsong is committed to grow her non-profit until Linens for Animals touches needy animals nationwide. “My goal is to have Linens for Animals in every city and state of the United States because it’s ridiculous that all of these linens are either getting ragged or out ending up in a dump. It’s not only good for the animals – it’s good for the environment,” she says.
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