Global Aid in Time of Global Crisis

By Giving List Staff   |   November 26, 2022

In 1945, William Zimdin, an Estonian immigrant who had fled fascism to California, dedicated his fortune to sending relief parcels to war-torn Europe, sparking the organization that would eventually become Direct Relief. 

More than 75 years later, Direct Relief provides emergency response and humanitarian and disaster relief to all 50 U.S. states and roughly 100 other nations. Their organization’s work is unabating and often in areas overlooked in the headlines. The Santa Barbara-based nonprofit shipped 27 tons of medicine to Sri Lanka when an economic crisis pushed the island-nation’s healthcare system near collapse. These ongoing efforts across the globe meant that Direct Relief is always ready, with supply chains and partnering organizations ready to respond at a moment’s notice. 

A provider from HOPE Hospital responds to flooding in Bangladesh with an emergency medical pack provided by Direct Relief.

For years, Direct Relief had been working in Ukraine. After the invasion, the organization began receiving requests for items they’ve rarely had to send, everything from body bags to treatments for chemical weapons. Since then, it has shipped more than 900 tons of medical aid to 400-plus hospitals and clinics in Ukraine. Direct Relief has also provided $15.9 million of direct financial assistance, both within the country and to refugees in surrounding areas like Poland and Moldova, for medical essentials such as pharmaceutical prescriptions.

“Before the crisis in Ukraine started, we were already delivering medications to the Ministry of Health in Ukraine. When the war started, we didn’t have to start from scratch and try to figure out who to work with; we already had a really clear channel of how to get medicines into Ukraine,” says Heather Bennett, vice president of partnerships and philanthropy.

To generate support for Ukraine, Direct Relief has had to get creative in its fundraising, with efforts ranging from a Carnegie Hall concert hosted by Richard Gere, to partnering with Epic Games, who donated two weeks of revenue and subscriptions from the video game Fortnite – a total of $27 million – to Direct Relief and four other nonprofits.

Direct Relief is supported purely by their contributors and any donated funds can be directed to a specific program or area. Take a look at where and what crises are happening in the world. Given its vast range of geographical regions they serve and medical causes they support, there’s a good chance Direct Relief is already there with boots on the ground, continuing their legacy of aid. 


Direct Relief

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(805) 879-4932Vice President, Partnerships and Philanthropy: Dean Axelrod


Direct Relief is a humanitarian aid organization, active in all 50 states and more than 80 countries, with a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies – without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.

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Direct Relief’s generous support of victims of disasters and emergencies, let alone their support of first responders, is unmatched by any other organization. With the establishment of their Search and Rescue fund, we are now able to maintain and enhance our capabilities as a nonprofit, all-volunteer professional first responder team, ensuring the safety and well-being of the communities we live in, and serve for years to come.
Nelson Trichler
Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue

Providing Disaster and Humanitarian Relief Around the Globe

Direct Relief’s capacity and capabilities – including providing more than $5.5 million in local support, $77 million in California since 2020 – dwarfs most other such humanitarian aid organizations. But there are limits largely defined by its financial capacity.  

“Direct Relief is quite large relative to other organizations, but relative to the need that we’re trying to fulfill, what we’re doing is a drop in the bucket,” Tony Morain, Direct Relief’s VP of Communication, says. “We always wish that we could be doing more.” 

Adds Dean Axelrod, VP of Partnerships in Philanthropy: “The dream is to never have to say no.”

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