Tag Archives: relief

An Expression of Santa Barbara’s Global Philanthropic Reach

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.

Preparing Everyday for the Worst Day Ever

Kerri Murray, a veteran disaster relief professional, first saw ShelterBox in action in 2010 as Haiti was reeling from a devastating earthquake that killed 250,000 people.

“A million and a half people lost their homes in an instant,” Murray, who now leads ShelterBox USA as its president, says. “ShelterBox was one of the first organizations on the ground in Port-au-Prince, and it was among the largest providers of shelter aid.” 

While deployed to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and after super Typhoon Haiyan leveled communities across the Philippines, Murray again witnessed ShelterBox on the frontlines of disaster, providing its iconic green ShelterBoxes, replete with humanitarian relief tents, cooking sets, blankets, water purification, mosquito nets, and solar lights. 

“Whether you are displaced during a disaster, conflict, or now a global pandemic, shelter is one of the most tangible differences you can make in someone’s life,” Murray says. “It is the first step in recovery. And, during this COVID-19 pandemic, home is crucial to our health and well-being.” It is clear, the work of ShelterBox has never been more important than now, and they are scaling up and adapting their efforts to help more people during the pandemic.

For Murray, taking the opportunity to lead the organization in 2015 was a no brainer. “One of the biggest issues plaguing our planet is the massive displacement of people. With more than 104 million people displaced due to conflicts, natural disasters, or by the consequences of climate change, there are more people displaced today than any time in recorded history.” Shelter is an essential human need.

With a U.S. headquarters in Santa Barbara, 17 global offices, a paid staff of 130, and hundreds of highly trained, response-team volunteers being regularly deployed in the world’s hot spots, ShelterBox provides shelter to 250,000 people a year. ShelterBox is Rotary International’s official project partner in disaster relief. Their work to deliver lifesaving shelter in the world’s most extreme conflict zones earned ShelterBox two Nobel Peace Prize nominations in 2018 and 2019. 

But the challenge is mounting at a dizzying clip. Murray recalls giving a speech at the United Nations/Rotary day last year. At that time, the number of displaced stood at 88 million. Within a year it had surged nearly 20%. 

To meet the need, Murray wants to quadruple ShelterBox’s footprint to shelter one million people a year. And while a daunting challenge, she is heartened by her Santa Barbara neighbors, who, unfortunately, know all too well how fast disasters can destroy lives. “We live in a community with an innate drive to give back and make a difference,” Murray says. “There are so many people that care about the work of ShelterBox and believe that shelter is a basic human right. Our supporters want to help people who have lost everything, people they will never meet, but whose lives they can transform.”