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Direct Relief’s Volunteer Army Provides Hands-On Help Here at Home Whenever Disaster Strikes

Locals turn out to quickly assemble supplies so emergency shipments can be delivered ASAP wherever they're needed

(Melissa Walker / Noozhawk video)

[Noozhawk's note: Second in a Noozhawk series on Direct Relief International, in partnership with the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

The efforts and support from Direct Relief to areas and people in crisis — locally and worldwide — would not be possible without the generous support of volunteers and supporters, and many year-end and holiday events ring true to the cause.

A Thanksgiving Day event gathered one of the largest groups of volunteers yet, with 1,000 people joining forces — including local celebrity Billy Baldwin — to help 2,000 families in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

“Last year we were here on Thanksgiving Day doing a packing event for Superstorm Sandy victims along the Eastern Seaboard of the United States," Baldwin told Noozhawk. "And today we are doing a packing event for the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines.”

Baldwin noted that the number of volunteers at the event in 2012 was four times more than expected, and the number of Thanksgiving volunteers next year would likely continue the upward trend. Quoting a famous line from the movie, Jaws, he emphasized the point, saying that next year “we’re going to need a bigger boat.”

“Because we have about 1,000 volunteers here today, all with their heart in the right place, being of service, giving back to the community and helping to raise awareness about the plight of the people in the Philippines," he said. "It’s just so wonderful and just fits in so perfectly with the message of Thanksgiving.”

Volunteers spent a busy morning at Direct Relief’s Goleta warehouse, at 27 S. La Patera Lane, in a long and efficient line to pack bags containing hygiene supplies like soap, dental floss, toothpaste and toothbrushes, and sunscreen.

The throng was joined by 105-year-old longtime supporter Edythe Kirchmaier, who volunteers weekly and who first started with Direct Relief in 1974.

“They had an ad in the paper asking for volunteers to go to foreign countries," Kirchmaier recalled. "They wanted doctors, nurses, social workers and teachers. My husband and I were both social workers, retired, so we applied and they sent us to Taiwan. And we were there for 18 months volunteering."

She and her husband returned to the United States until they were reassigned for an additional 18 months in Taiwan. The Santa Barbara couple continued their relationship with Direct Relief until Kirchmaier's husband died on her 100th birthday, in 2008, but her passion for the nonprofit organization continues today.

“I come out to Direct Relief every Tuesday, address letters and write thank-you notes with some other volunteers," she said. "And I’m here every Tuesday morning.”

The thank-you letters are part of another program with youth who write out inspirational notes and enclose pictures for survivors. The correspondence accompanies the supplies and medical aid.

The contributions of volunteers in the areas of administrative support, program research, public outreach, inventory, unpaid internships and events are offered only at the Direct Relief facilities here in Goleta. Overseas opportunities are not available.

An additional way to pledge support during the holidays is with a tribute card to make a difference in many forms in a loved one's honor. Medical supplies for a safe childbirth are provided with only $25 of support up to a gift of $500 that equips a U.S. Medical Reserve Corps volunteer with emergency medical supplies. Click here for more information on tribute cards.

With an eye on the tinder-dry and fire-prone landscape of Santa Barbara County and elsewhere in California, Direct Relief also provides support for first-responders and for community members who are displaced and affected by wildfire.

On Dec. 27, Direct Relief sent an urgent shipment of supplies and medicine for people affected by the Pfeiffer Fire in Big Sur. The shipment arrived at a health center partner in Salinas, Clinica de Salud de Valle de Salinas, and included N-95 particulate face masks, asthma inhalers and nebulizers worth more than $3,000 wholesale.

Although the 900-acre wildfire was fully contained last week, the smoke, ash and particulate matter in the air have led to an increase of patients with respiratory symptoms at Clinica de Salud's eight clinic locations in the area.

To better prepare California for an emergency, Direct Relief has provided more than 1,200 MRC Packs to 15 Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) units from Santa Barbara to Sacramento. These “grab-and-go” backpacks are filled with emergency medical supplies and equipment to enable responders to deploy quickly when an emergency strikes.

Direct Relief also has an important leadership role in the state’s Standardized Emergency Management System in partnership with the California Emergency Management Agency, to provide material resources to clinics, health centers and public health officials during a large-scale emergency in coordination with the Business and Utility Operations Center.

In the Santa Barbara area, Direct Relief Women host fundraisers during the year to create awareness for maternal-child health initiatives that help save the lives of thousands of women and babies worldwide. For more information on future Direct Relief Women events and activities, email Hayley Firestone Jessup at [email protected].

Student-led chapters from elementary to college, Youth4DirectRelief, also meet nationwide to discuss global health issues and increase awareness for the organization.

Another form of support are third-party fundraisers developed by Direct Relief that include easy steps to help raise money toward a disaster or general cause, including online registration and branding to personal fundraising web pages to promote a variety of events, such as bake sales, car washes and music benefits. Click here for more information on the process and instructions on how to set up your fundraiser.

Other ways to give include one-time and monthly contributions, or gifts of stock or other securities, vehicles or boats, via Cars4Causes.

For more information on all of these events or to sign up, call 805.964.4767 or email Martha Angeles at [email protected].

Click here for more information on Direct Relief, or click here to make an online donation. Follow @DirectRelief on Twitter for the latest updates on its emergency response in the Philippines.

Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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