Unite to Light Holds Travel Auction to Raise Funds for Solar Light and Charger Distribution

Auction Lots Valid for Travel Through February 2024

Samah, a student in Sierra Leone, with UTL solar light | Credit: ChildFund

Unite to Light (UTL) is holding an online travel auction February 8-12 for trips valid through February 2024 and for travel-related products. The lucky winning bidders will enjoy a fun vacation or a bundle of travel-related products while supporting the nonprofit’s work of providing solar lights and chargers to those in need around the world.

Co-founder/Board Chair John Bowers and President/CEO Megan Birney at a pre-COVID event | Credit: Gail Arnold

Run by the nonprofit American Fundraising Foundation, the auction offers nine trips, which include air and accommodations for two. There are also four bundles of travel-related products donated by merchants and an option to make an outright donation. Opening bids for the trips include an online donation to UTL and all amounts over the minimum bid go to UTL. All proceeds from the product bundles go to UTL.

One in seven people are without electricity — more than a billion people — according to UTL President and CEO Megan Birney. UTL focuses on four areas: students in the developing world, midwives in the developing world, disaster victims worldwide, and homeless individuals here at home.

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The pandemic, Birney relates, has increased the demand for its chargers and lights to an even greater level. Students are now schooling from home in their mud huts, midwives have stepped up to care for COVID patients, and homeless individuals lack access to charging venues for their cellphones. Last year, UTL distributed more than 21,000 solar lights and nearly 4,000 solar chargers.

While COVID increased the demand for UTL’s products, it also increased the challenges of delivery. Solar lights destined for the developing world were stranded through the spring and summer because of border closings and COVID restrictions, but when African borders began opening in late summer, UTL sent 2,000 lights to students in Sierra Leone and Malawi studying at home. COVID prevented the operation of a school exchange program between a U.S. school and a Ghana school to which UTL had been supplying lights, but UTL was still able to send lights and chargers to the Ghana school for distribution by those students to their less fortunate neighbors.

Midwife using UTL solar lights at UNFPA clinic in Bangladesh | Credit: UNFPA

Last year, UTL sent chargers to midwives in Haiti, Togo, and Uganda who have stepped up to care for COVID patients. Distribution has been through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and other nonprofits, which give the products to the midwives they train in COVID care. Phones are critical for communication with health-care providers as well as for training apps.

For disaster victims, most UTL lights and chargers are typically distributed through Direct Relief. Last year, products were sent to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and Honduras.

Here at home, with COVID, homeless individuals who previously relied on libraries and other public venues to charge their phones have found many of these venues closed. Shelters are unattractive to many because of the infection risk. So homeless individuals were left with cell phones they could not charge during a pandemic, when being able to call for medical help has never been more important for the health of the homeless community and the community at large. Unite to Light quickly mobilized, getting solar chargers to homeless individuals through the  County of S.B., United Way, and S.B. Street Medicine. 

Recipient of solar charger distributed by Backpacks for the Street in New York | Credit: Backpacks for the Street

UTL then expanded distribution through organizations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Boston, and Nashville, providing more than 3,000 chargers to people living on the streets.

In previous years, UTL distributed chargers and lights to homeless people in New Beginning’s Safe Parking Program, including in partnership with S.B. Street Medicine through S.B. Gives, an annual fundraising effort by the Santa Barbara Independent and the Fund for Santa Barbara.

Since its founding in 2010, UTL has been involved in a range of creative projects. For example, as part of a University of California initiative to offset emissions, UTL and Tanzania-based Solar Sister recently did a pilot project to replace kerosene lamps with solar lamps in Tanzania, and UTL is now working with UC to try to scale the project. 

This Santa Barbara-based nonprofit distributes about two-thirds of its products through other organizations that buy the products at cost. It distributes the remainder through its own projects, which it funds through fundraising efforts. 

For the auction, click here.

Unite to Light solar lights and chargers can be purchased online here or locally at CircaTerra Travel Outfitters. A $20 price gets a light for yourself or a loved one and funds the donation of a light to someone in need. 

To make a donation or for more info about UTL, click here. 

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