Direct Relief

Direct Relief (formerly known as Direct Relief International) is a nonprofit humanitarian organization that provides emergency medical assistance and disaster relief in the United States and internationally."[1]

The organization is headed by an independent Board of Directors and President and CEO, Thomas Tighe.[6]


In 1945, William Zimdin, an Estonian immigrant to the United States and businessman, began sending thousands of relief parcels to relatives, friends, and former employees in Europe to help with the aftermath of World War II.[2][7][8] In 1948, Zimdin formalized his efforts with the establishment of the William Zimdin Foundation.[9] Dezso Karczag, a Hungarian Jewish immigrant assumed management of the foundation following Zimdin's death in 1951. Karczag changed the organization's name to Direct Relief Foundation in 1957.[9]

In the early 1960s, the foundation refined its mission to serve disadvantaged populations in medically underserved communities around the world.[10] To assist with this effort, Direct Relief became licensed as a wholesale pharmacy in 1962 to be able to provide prescription medicines.[10] During this time, the organization also supported victims of natural disasters in the U.S. and homeless populations in Santa Barbara, California.[11] The foundation assumed the name Direct Relief International in 1982.[12][7]

In 2004, the organization provided almost $122 million in medical aid to 54 countries.[13] That same year, Direct Relief assisted Sri Ramakrishna Math and GlaxoSmithKline with designing and implementing a One Year Nurse Assistant Training program in India.[14] The program was started to empower young women in districts affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami. By 2019, over 1200 nurses had graduated.[14]

In 2011, Direct Relief Women held its first-ever fundraiser for Direct Relief International. All money raised went toward providing safe births around the world.[15] In 2013, Direct Relief International assumed the name Direct Relief.[12]

After raising $3,300 for American Cancer Society through a partnership with Direct Relief in 2016, Matthew Moffit and Direct Relief produced Zeldathon (playing Legend of Zelda for 36 hours straight) and formed Direct Relief Gaming, which has raised $1.6M since its inception.[16]

In 2018, Direct Relief provided about $1.2 billion worth of wholesale materials to health centers in over 100 countries.


Between 2000 – 2014, the organization's operating budget averaged roughly $11 million.[17] Over the same period, it reported delivering more than $1.6 billion in medical resources and supplies in the U.S. and the world.[18] Medical supplies come largely through in-kind donations by hundreds of pharmaceutical manufacturers.[19]

The organization manages logistics and distribution through enterprise systems that include SAP, Esri, and in-kind transportation support from FedEx.[3][17][20]

In 2019, Direct Relief opened its new Santa Barbara warehouse and distribution headquarters.[21] The new building is 155,000-square-feet, earthquake-safe, and outfitted with state-of-the-art distribution technology for medical supplies.[22] Direct Relief partnered with Tesla to create a microgrid power supply for the building.[23] Solar panels are integrated with battery storage and generators to keep the headquarters running for up to six months in the face of a disaster, and to store temperature-sensitive medications like insulin and vaccines.[22]

Emergency preparedness and response

Relief efforts


Brief description of Direct Relief's efforts in preparation of Hurricane Dorian in 2019

Hurricane Katrina (2005): Direct Relief provided care to more than 37,170 evacuees and started their Hurricane Preparedness program after Hurricane Katrina occurred.[24][25]

Hurricane Ike (2008): Hurricane Ike displaced over 100,000 people in 2008. Direct Relief provided over $1.1 million in hurricane emergency aid as of September 20, 2008. The shipments contained medicines, and hygienic supplies.[26][27]

Hurricane Gustav (2008): Direct Relief committed $250,000 in hurricane response funds to assist nonprofit clinics, community health centers, and alternate care sites. Direct Relief worked with the National Association of Community Health Centers and State Primary Care Associations in the Gulf.[28]

Hurricane Irene (2011): Direct Relief worked closely with Merck to make tetanus vaccine available to clinics and community health centers affected by Hurricane Irene.[29] Direct Relief also collaborated with the National Association of Community Health Centers, the North Carolina Community Health Center Association (NCCHCA), the Bi-State Primary Care Association & the Vermont Coalition of Clinics for the Uninsured to offer assistance for people affected by Irene.[30]

Hurricane Sandy (2012): Provided medical supplies to community clinics, non-profit health centers, and other groups in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, and mapped pharmacies, gas stations, and other facilities that remained in the New York City area despite power outages.[31]

Hurricane Matthew (2016): Direct Relief delivered the largest emergency medical aid airlift to Haiti since Hurricane Matthew struck. Direct Relief utilized a 757 plane, donated by FedEx, that contained 16.7 tons of medicine and medical supplies. These supplies were distributed to hospitals throughout the country to care for people who had been affected by the storm.[32]

Hurricane Harvey (2017): In 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. Direct Relief made its entire inventory of more than $100 million in medical supplies and $200K in cash to support victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.[33]

Hurricane Irma (2017): Direct Relief coordinated with more than 70 healthcare partners in Florida and Puerto Rico including the Florida Association of Community Health Centers and the Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico to support existing nonprofit community clinics and health centers.[34]

Hurricane Maria (2017): First organization to bring medicine into Puerto Rico when the commercial supply chain failed after Hurricane Maria had reached land in September 2017. After a year, Direct Relief had provided $70.2M in medical aid.[35]

Hurricane Florence (2018): Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina in September, 2018.[36] Direct Relief committed an initial $200K in cash and made its medical inventory of over $100M available for emergencies occurring on the U.S. East Coast.[37]

Hurricane Dorian (2019): Direct Relief delivered medical aid and emergency supplies to affected areas in the Bahamas.[38]


Pakistan Earthquake (2005): provided over $14 million in assistance to local partners to help rebuild the healthcare infrastructure.[39]

Peru Earthquake (2007): Direct Relief worked with FedEx Express and donated 32 cartons of aid worth about $100K to earthquake victims in Peru.[40]

Haiti Earthquake (2010): In the six months following the Haiti earthquake, provided more than 400 tons of emergency medical assistance worth more than $57 million.[41]

Nepal Earthquake (2015): In response to the Nepal earthquake, delivered via FedEx charter 118,000 pounds of medical aid, which included 6.2 million defined daily doses of medications.[42]

Mexico Earthquake (2017): On September 7, 2017, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake occurred in Mexico, and claimed at least 98 lives. Direct Relief provided emergency health kits to a trauma hospital in southern Mexico City, which contained enough medical supplies to support 1,000 people for a month.[43]

Indonesia Earthquake (2019): Multiple major earthquakes struck Indonesia and triggered a tsunami that took to shore on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. To aid relief efforts, Direct Relief made its inventory of $30 million in medicines and supplies readily available for survivors.[44]

Japan Earthquake & Tsunami (2011): The Tohoku Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011. It was a magnitude 9 earthquake, that was followed by both a tsunami and a nuclear disaster. Over 16,000 people died. After the disaster, Direct Relief and the Japanese American Citizens League established the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund, committing 100 percent of all contributions to be used exclusively to help people in Japan in the most efficient manner possible.[45][46]


Guatemala – Fuego Volcano (2018): The death toll from this devastating volcanic blast reached numbers over 100 people, with hundreds more still missing. Direct Relief coordinated with the Pan American Health Organization, local partners, and pharmaceutical companies to provide aid to those displaced and injured by the volcanic blasts. Medical staff had immediate access to medical inventory for emergency response.[47]

Ecuador – Mt. Cotopaxi (2015): The President of Ecuador declared a state of emergency in 2015 because of the increasing signs of activity coming from the Cotopaxi volcano. Since 2010, Direct Relief has provided six Ecuadorian health care partners with aid totaling $2,122,650.[48]

Hawaii – Kilauea Volcano (2018): The Kilauea Volcano, located on Hawaii's Big Island, erupted from fissures in 2018.[49] Direct Relief aided in relief efforts by providing respirator masks to those affected by the eruption.[50]

Disease outbreaks

H1N1 Outbreak (2009): During the H1N1 surge, Direct Relief provided 478 clinics in 49 states with H1N1 protective items to keep clinic workers healthy throughout flu season.[51]

Zika Virus Outbreak (2015): Since 2015, as many as 1.5 million cases have been acquired according to the World Health Organization.[52] In 2016, Direct Relief established a Zika Fund and helped fulfill requests for supplies in 14 affected countries.[53]

DRC Ebola Outbreak (2015): The outbreak began in 2015, but in 2019 there have been 1,000+ cases of Ebola in the DRC. The outbreak is the largest in the country's history, and the second largest outbreak recorded of Ebola ever.[54] Direct Relief delivered 40 shipments of medical aid worth $25 million to roughly 1,000 hospitals and clinics in Liberia and Sierra Leone.[55] On September 20, 2014, the organization chartered a 747 carrying 100 tons of supplies for Ebola-hit regions .[56] Since 2015, Direct Relief has provided $13.9 million in medical aid.[57][58]

Coronavirus (COVID-19) (2019-2020): In January 2020, Direct Relief worked with FedEx Cares, FedEx's global charitable platform, to fulfill an emergency order from the medical staff in Wuhan's largest hospital, Wuhan Union Hospital.[59][60] By March 2020, the nonprofit had sent more than 30 tons of supplies to China.[61] This included almost 900,000 N95 masks, as well as face shields, gowns, gloves, and oxygen concentrators. Direct Relief also committed to $2 million in emergency funding to support U.S. healthcare efforts.

As of April 2020, the nonprofit had distributed more than 145,000 pounds of medical aid in response to COVID-19.[62] Direct Relief had shipped to hospitals and clinics in all 50 U.S. states, as well as institutions in 32 countries.[63][64] The organization also started its new COVID-19 Fund for Community Health to provide community health centers with financial support for healthcare workers.[65] 3M donated $10 million to the Fund.[66] By June 2020, over 518 health centers had received funding through the COVID-19 Fund.[67]

In May 2020, Direct Relief announced that it was partnering with FedEx Cares to ship personal protective equipment (PPE) to underserved communities around the U.S.[68] Together the companies distributed over 4.3 million masks, 3.1 million gloves, 622,000 face shields, and 100,000 gowns.[68] Additionally, Direct Relief sent over 350,000 surgical masks, 30,000 face masks, and 10,000 goggles to Mexico.[69]


In July 2019, the organization released an analysis of which small towns in California could be the hardest hit by a fast-moving wildfire based on the numbers of low-income, immobile, aging, or disabled people in the community.[70] Nine towns were given a "very high" social-vulnerability score.[70]

California Gap Fire (2008): Direct Relief provided 35,000 free NIOSH N-95 particulate respirators to local residents to help avoid the harmful effects of inhaling smoke and ash from the Gap Fire. The burned area rose to more than 9,500 acres.[71]

Jesusita Fire (2009): After responses to both the fires in Northern California and Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Direct Relief delivered respiratory masks and albuterol inhalers to Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics and others affected by persistently poor air quality from smoke and ash.[72]

Thomas Fire (2017): The Thomas Fire burned 281,893 acres and burned 1,000 in several California counties. Direct Relief donated an SUV and pickup truck that were re-purposed into first-response vehicles to aid in relief efforts.[73] The Ford F-150 pickup is equipped with a paddleboard, a rescue basket, a mobile data computer for GPS location, and LED response and scene lighting.[73] It will be used during surf and water rescues, and to provide support during wildfire calls, flooding incidents, and urban search-and-rescue situations.[73] The Ford Explorer SUV will be used as a secondary command post.[73]

California Wildfires (2018): In response to the destruction and challenges that survivors of California's recent wildfires face throughout California, Direct Relief announced that it would devote at least $2 million in cash to aid in response and recovery efforts. Direct Relief also provided emergency, firefighting and medical supplies medications to first responders and affected communities.[74][75] In October, 2019, Direct Relief donated $500,000 worth of new equipment to CAL FIRE Butte County and Paradise.[76] The donation included satellite WiFi, a boat generator, and trucks and trailers.[76]

Australia Wildfires (September 2019 – 2020): The wildfires started in New South Wales and burned over 18 million acres of land.[77] Direct Relief donated 500,000 N95 fire masks to help protect Australians from smoke and particulates in the air.[78] The airline Qantas volunteered to deliver the masks free-of-charge.[78][77]


Typhoon Yutu (2018): The 'super typhoon' hit the Northern Mariana Islands in October 2018. Direct relief worked with Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation (the only hospital in the Northern Mariana Islands) and with other health facilities damaged by the storm to coordinate medical aid shipments. A shipment of 40,000 liters of drinking water along with other essential items was delivered in late October.[79]

Use of Technology

  • Using Esri technology, launched a Global Aid Map in 2011 to visualize channels of aid and medical material distributed during emergencies in real time.[80]
  • Working with Palantir Technologies, used communications data integration systems to coordinate and enhance emergency response during critical moments following a disaster.[81] The organization has also used civil unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, to respond to disaster.[82]
  • Working with technology companies Palantir and Esri, pre-positioned medical supply modules with safety-net health facilities in socially vulnerable areas, flood zones and hurricane paths.[83]
  • Provides Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) volunteers in the U.S. with emergency medical packs designed in collaboration with the California Emergency Medical Services Authority (Cal EMSA).[84]
  • Working with Merck & Co., Volans-i, Softbox Systems, and AT&T to test drones for disaster relief.[85] The drones are designed to deliver emergency supplies like anesthetics, insulin, and wound care materials.[85] In June 2019, a drone flew about 50-miles round trip in a test run between Marsh Harbour and Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas.[85]
  • Working with Mind Heros and to make its chatbot available for free to other nonprofits.[86] Mind Heros built the bot for Direct Relief, and it is used to cut down response times for easy-to-answer questions.[86]

Disease prevention and intervention

In 2013, launched a program in partnership with Basic Health International to screen and treat women in Haiti for cervical cancer.[87]

Maternal and child health

Direct Relief delivers medical aid to people in high-need areas worldwide by supporting partners that provide child and maternal health services through the full process of pregnancy. The organization provides midwives with the tools needed to provide delivery, antenatal and postpartum care safely.[88]

In 2017, Direct Relief distributed 300 midwife kits to 14 partners in seven countries in the Caribbean, southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, supporting 15,000 safe births.[88]

  • In July 2011, developed the Global Fistula Map in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund and the Fistula Foundation.[89][90]
  • In 2012, teamed up with Last Mile Health to launch a Childhood Pneumonia Program in Liberia.[91]
  • Provided midwife kits to hospitals and midwifery schools in Sierra Leone, Somaliland, and Nepal.[92]
  • Increased support to Edna Adan University Hospital for treatment and care for women with obstetric fistula. This included the construction and equipping of an operating theater and the development of a training curriculum for midwives and nurses.[93]

Charity reviews and awards


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External links

Official website