We Can Do Something

Mike Cavallaro helps hospitals provide clothes for those who need them

Published in 2019 Minnesota Super Lawyers Magazine

It’s a brutal fact that when homeless and otherwise indigent people receive hospital treatment, some of their few possessions—clothes they were wearing when they came through the door—are often destroyed in the process. Patients, however, can’t leave the hospital without appropriate clothing; and yet, there is no formal procedure within most medical facilities to provide them. Sometimes nurses go to Walmart or Target and buy the clothes themselves, out of their own pockets.

Three years ago, Barnes & Thornburg partner Mike Cavallaro and a few colleagues—fellow B&T partner Tom Hoffman, Wells Fargo VP and senior counsel Gary Kanwischer, and Wells Fargo legal administrator Rochelle Graham—got to talking about the subject. Graham’s daughter is an employee at Hennepin County Medical Center, where most of Minneapolis’s homeless population goes when they are in need of urgent medical care, and has found herself shopping for patient clothes on a number of occasions.

“Rochelle was talking to Gary about it,” Cavallaro says, “and said she couldn’t believe this was going on. Gary is a friend of mine and Tom’s. He enlisted us to get together and chat about how we could make it work. And we’re a law firm, so we could get it filed as a 501(c)(3). It was a conversation that snowballed into something more—we got together one day and figured out how it could work.”

Thus Outpatient Outfitters was born.

“We filed, then started soliciting donations and picking up clothes,” Cavallaro says. “It really was a group collaboration, and we did it for the sole purpose of helping people. All of us just want to make a difference.”

Last year, the all-volunteer nonprofit provided HCMC with more than 6,000 items of clothing; 2,000 more went to Regions Hospital in St. Paul. More than $2,500 worth of clothing was purchased through donations. The organization has no staff and no overhead. Cavallaro and seven other volunteers, most of whom are also lawyers or bankers, round up the items however they can: handing out flyers, mounting clothing drives, talking to neighbors, soliciting donations. When their car trunks are full, they drop off the clothes and start all over again.

Having clean clothes for patients is important for several reasons, not the least of which is to prevent infection after a surgical procedure. Quickly outfitting someone with clean, weather-appropriate clothes is often the most efficient way to open up a bed for another patient.

This past winter was especially challenging, says Cavallaro. But experience has taught the Outfitters what hospitals really need in the way of specific clothing items—sweatpants, sweatshirts, shoes, gloves, etc.—and how to devise ways to provide them. “If we get a cash donation, we’ll go on a shopping trip and pick up what we can. And if Regions says they need 10 sweatpants and 10 pairs of boots, we’ll try to get it for them.”

Cavallaro and the organization’s board have explored the possibility of reaching out to colleagues in other cities and starting other chapters. “So far, we’ve mostly grown through word-of-mouth,” he says. “We have plans to expand, but the need is great, and our time is limited, so we’re focused on HCMC and Regions at the moment.” 

Ready to Help Out?

Those who want to donate clothes can contact the organization through its Facebook page, and financial contributions can be made through the Outpatient Outfitters PayPal account. If clothes need to be picked up, one of the team—perhaps even Cavallaro himself—will do what they can to make it happen.

“We’re really just a group of people who want to help,” says Cavallaro.

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