An Expression of Santa Barbara’s Global Philanthropic Reach

By Giving List Staff   |   January 2, 2021

In 1948, an Estonian immigrant named William Zimdin – who had experienced the ravages of World War II – founded what would become the largest charitable distributor of medical supplies in the world: Direct Relief. Importantly, Zimdin did so right here in Santa Barbara.

Direct Relief’s global work begins at home, and has long worked closely with and supported both local and statewide firefighting and public health agencies as well as colleague Santa Barbara nonprofit health organizations, including the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and the Santa Barbara Bucket Brigade.

Over the last decade alone, the charity – which is entirely funded by private philanthropy – has provided $7.8 billion in medical aid to more than 100 countries and every single U.S. state. Across the United States, Direct Relief partners with 1,300 safety-net clinics and health centers, which serve more than 30 million people who are unable to pay for care. It is the largest provider of charitable medicines in the world, largest supplier of free PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and uniquely accredited among nonprofits to distribute Rx medications in all 50 states.

The organization’s motto is to serve anyone at any time, and its mission is “to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.”

To do so, Direct Relief leverages donations of medicine and medical supplies from 150 of the world’s largest medical and pharmaceutical companies, so that it can in turn give those vital resources to the people who need them most – whether on the tail end of a hurricane, a fire, or during a raging global pandemic.

This highly leveraged business model has allowed Direct Relief to expand the frontiers of its work efficiently, and with all of its fundraising costs covered by a supporting foundation endowed by bequests.

When Hurricane Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico, it took the island’s medical infrastructure with it. In short order, 84% of the territory’s temperature-sensitive medicines were lost, and Direct Relief quickly realized it couldn’t send insulin with the grid – and the refrigerators attached to it – knocked out. So the nonprofit quickly set up battery backups and solar power generation at 89 Puerto Rico clinics to provide refrigeration for medicines. The project was so successful that the nonprofit is launching a similar initiative in California, where an ever-growing fire season and rolling blackouts threaten the medical system’s ability to respond in times of emergency. Direct Relief’s headquarters is powered by the first microgrid approved in the continental U.S. and allows it to fulfill critical roles here locally in during power outages.

But for all this work across the globe and nation, Direct Relief remains rooted to its home: Santa Barbara.


Direct Relief
Phone: (805) 879-4934
Vice President – Partnerships and Philanthropy: Heather Bennett


Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.

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Expanding Impact

“For the past thirty years, I have traveled to war zones and other dark places with international human rights and humanitarian organizations. During these trips, I would learn the specific needs of refugees and other devastated populations and then take that information to Direct Relief when I returned home. Direct Relief became my ‘go-to’ organization, because it always responded immediately by shipping desperately needed medical supplies. Since I joined the board, the organization has grown so much and its impact has greatly expanded, both in the United States and around the world. I am very proud to be part of Direct Relief’s life-saving work.”
– Jane Olson, Board Member
 Direct Relief; Former Chair, International Board of Human Rights Watch; Former Chair, Women’s Refugee Commission and the Landmine Survivors Network

Board of Directors

Pamela Gann, Chair, Professor of Legal Studies, Claremont McKenna; Former President, Claremont McKenna
Mark Linehan, Vice Chair, President, Wynmark Company
Jim Selbert, Secretary, Co-Founder, Warren & Selbert
Linda Gluck, Treasurer, Former Vice President of Administration, Bethlehem Corporation
Siri Marshall, Assistant Secretary, Former SVP, General Counsel, and Chief Compliance Officer, General Mills
Byron Scott, M.D., Assistant Treasurer, Adjunct Faculty, UMass Amherst School of Management & Jefferson College of Population Health
Jay McGonigle, Former Chair and CEO, Corporate Executive Board
Jane Olson, International Peace and Justice Volunteer
Mark Schwartz, Former Chair & CEO, Specialty Merchandise Group
Thomas Sturgess, Executive Chairman, Tiri Group Limited and Blue Star Print Holdings
Steve Weintraub, Certified Financial Planner, Partner in West Coast Financial, LLC
Bitsy Becton Bacon, Real Estate Broker
Lou Buglioli, Executive Chairman, Viewpointe
Charles Fenzi, M.D., Chief Executive Officer and Chief Medical Officer, Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics
Evan Marwell, CEO, Education Superhighway
Harry McMahon, Senior Advisor, G100 Network; Former Executive Vice Chair, Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Annalisa Pizzarello, Senior Vice President of Results Delivery, Amgen
Jamie Ruffing, Ph.D., Public Health Office, Epidemiologist, and Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Air National Guard
Honorary Board, Direct Relief
Sylvia Karczag, President Emeritus
Dorothy Adams, Director Emeritus
Thomas J. Cusack, Chair Emeriti
Richard Godfrey, Chair Emeriti
Stanley C. Hatch, Chair Emeriti
Angel Iscovich, M.D., Chair Emeriti
Dorothy F. Largay, Ph.D, Chair Emeriti
Nancy Lessner, Chair Emeriti
Rita Moya, Chair Emeriti
John Romo, Chair Emeriti
Denis Sanan, Chair Emeriti
Nancy Schlosser, Chair Emeriti
Medical Advisory Council, Direct Relief
Byron Scott, M.D., Chair
Juan Carlos Alvarenga, MD
Federico Antillon, MD, PhD
Steve Arrowsmith, MD
Hon. Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA
Charity Dean, MD, MPH
Elizabeth Duarte, MD
Georges Dubuche, MD, MPH
Adrian Ebner, MD
Paul Farmer, MD, PhD
Charles Fenzi, MD
Daron Ferris, MD
Charles Filipi, MD
Lynn Fitzgibbons, MD
Susan Fleischman, MD
Grace Floutsis, MD
Henri Ford, MD, MHA, FACS, FAAP
Hon. Jaime Galvez Tan, MD, MPH
Paul Giboney, MD
William C. Gong, Pharm D, FASHP, FCSHP
Bert Green, MD
Elizabeth Green, RN
Dan Greenfield, MD
Douglas S. Gross, MD, PhD
Angel L. Iscovich, MD, FACEP
Rosie Jadidian, PharmD
Karen Lamp, MD
Michael Maguire, MD
Laurinda Marshall, RN
Sofia Merajver, MD, PhD
Carol Millage, PharmD
Charles Nicholson, MD
Raj Panjabi, MD, MPH
Jamie Ruffing, PhD
Bakht Sarwar, MD, MS
Ayesha Shaikh, MD, OB/GYN
Hambardzum Simonyan, MD
Larry Stock, MD, FACEP
Elizabeth A. Toro, MD, MPH, OB/GYN
David S. Walton, MD, MPH
Thomas Weisenburger, MD
Beatrice Wiafe Addai, MD, PhD
Board of Directors, Direct Relief Mexico, A.C.
Pamela Gann, President
Mark Linehan, Vice President
Jim Selbert, Secretary
Linda Gluck, Treasurer
Felipe Ize
Thomas Tighe
Bhupi Singh
Mark Schwartz
Cristobal Thompson