Keep the Goodwill Flowing


Step inside Direct Relief ’s massive warehouse in Santa Barbara, California. It is the temporary home of hundreds of millions of dollars in donated medicines and supplies, and you would think you were inside Ikea or Costco, rather than California’s largest humanitarian aid organization.

The warehouse is decorated with flags from across the globe, representing the wide range of countries where Direct Relief is actively supporting health care providers. Operating in the most tightly-regulated industry in the world, distribution of pharmaceuticals, the organization responds to the largest disasters in the world and provides donated drugs on an ongoing basis to 62 countries.

On this Friday in early September 2010, the warehouse is humming. Incoming pallets of medicines are unpacked and sorted, and warehouse personnel are building outgoing shipments using scanners to import specific barcode data into the company’s SAP system.

This inventory system allows Direct Relief to track every single donated product, down to each individual pill, inhaler, IV bag, and syringe, to the local health care facility to which it will be delivered. The labels on the pallets reveal some of the destinations: “Asthma medication, Texas,” “Syringes, Wyoming,” and “Gauze bandages, Haiti.” It may seem chaotic at first glance, but the setup here is highly organized.

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