By Judy Tacyn
The doors of the District of Columbia General Hospital closed to patients in 2001, only to reopen as a homeless shelter for the capital’s most vulnerable population. Established in 1809, this venerable structure has literally and figuratively taken care of thousands of people. In 2016, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., announced plans to relocate the approximately 270 sheltered families to smaller facilities located throughout the district. By October 2018, the building stood empty and crumbling, but it wasn’t yet done taking care of the less fortunate.
George Taylor, a homicide detective for the D.C. police, and an Orphan Grain Train volunteer, was investigating a case that required him to enter the weary building. As Taylor roamed throughout the myriad rooms, offices and labs, he noticed that there was a large array of tables, chairs, beds, cabinets, gurneys and other durable equipment that was in excellent condition, though destined for trash before the building was set to be demolished.
As an Orphan Grain Train volunteer, Taylor has an eye for more than crime scenes and evidence – he knows good stuff when he sees it.
The Millersville-based all-volunteer Christian charity provides humanitarian aid to the needy in the United States and around the world. Its mission is to enable people who have more than they need to share their abundance with those in need. Donations to this charity could wind up in South Sudan, Liberia, Ghana, rural India, the inner city of Baltimore, or U.S. cities devastated by natural disasters. The eagle-eyed detective knew that there was more life in aging D.C. General.
Taylor approached the superintendent of the company tasked with razing the massive building to ask whether OGT volunteers could salvage anything that may be of use before the implosion or wrecking ball hit. To Taylor’s delight, the superintendent agreed.
“We were immediately excited when we realized the veritable treasure trove of humanitarian aid,” said Ron Phipps, an OGT volunteer. “We had a wonderful time looking through the cracks and crannies and realizing there was a lot of usable things left in the building.”
Inside the former D.C. General Hospital were hundreds of stacking chairs that the Orphan Grain Train would send to several schools in Liberia; beds to be sent to clinics and hospitals in South Sudan; mattresses that would go to a hospital in India; shelving and bookcases would be destined for a seminary in Ethiopia; and home goods that could help improve homeless facilities in Baltimore.
Supervised by OGT volunteer Norman Giguere, volunteers traveled every day for a week to pick up truckloads of the hospital’s contents and bring them to the Millersville warehouse where items would be sorted for shipment. In its final act of nurturing the most vulnerable of people, and thanks to Taylor and OGT volunteers, D.C. General surrendered its trash for another’s treasure.
Gilbane’s superintendent wrote in an email to the Orphan Grain Train, “It is a great pleasure to assist you all with your mission, to repurpose useful items for the improved quality of life for others.”
Phipps said that he hopes the OGT team can get back into the building a couple more times before it is imploded, which could be any day. “We are waiting on an asbestos abatement team to give us the all clear to enter additional parts of the building,” he said. “We are hoping we have time to salvage even more. It’s an absolute joy knowing we can give this equipment new life.”