Direct Relief may embody the gold standard when it comes to responding to world catastrophes, but with three massive hurricanes and two devastating earthquakes occurring at roughly the same time, even Santa Barbara’s crackerjack nonprofit has had its hands full. Direct Relief’s Goleta warehouses have been stocked with 900 percent more medications this September than they were last year. “It’s been six weeks since anyone’s had some time off, and we’re all working late nights, early mornings, and weekends,” said Tony Morain, spokesperson for Santa Barbara’s 70-year-old medical-supplies specialist, expert in getting them to any corner of the globe ravaged by natural disaster.
Morain said Direct Relief’s CEO, Thomas Tighe, and two other executives were in Puerto Rico dealing with the aftershocks of Hurricane Maria. Supplies can be airlifted in via helicopter, but the challenge can be getting the medications to clinics afterward. Cell-phone communication remains badly compromised, as are the power grid and water supplies. Many medications require refrigeration, said Morain. Without power, they go bad. For the same reason, more people are experiencing food poisoning.
Direct Relief, a $1.2 billion operation, has preexisting relationships with clinics in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. In Texas and Florida, Direct Relief had deposited several dozen caches of medications — each one enough to supply the medical needs of 100 people for five days — before the onslaught of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In Puerto Rico, Morain said, there are three million people on a landmass as wide as the distance from Santa Barbara to Ventura.
Direct Relief is currently at work building a new headquarters on land owned by the Municipal Airport. When complete, the group will have three times more warehouse space than it has now.