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Friday, August 1, 2014 - 12:12pm

How One Non-Profit Delivers Medical Supplies And Cuts Down On Waste

One weekday afternoon in Decatur, volunteers sort gauze, seal the seams of boxes with packing tape, and mark labels for future recipients who most likely live thousands of miles away. Inside these boxes are medical supplies waiting to be shipped.

These volunteers work at MedShare-- a nonprofit that recovers and distributes surplus medical supplies and equipment to countries in need.

Alvaro McRae, MedShare's volunteer coordinator, shares the disturbing and painful story of a young boy in his home country of Nicaragua.

"There was this boy who…he had a lot of sores on his hands and on his feet but they got so bad that he couldn't walk anymore."

Stories like that little boy’s are what led to the creation of MedShare, and they’re the force that drives Alvaro and his team of volunteers.

"We had people (visit) after the earthquake in Haiti. That was very moving because everyone saw the pictures of the earthquake in Haiti and these materials were going to help people," said Marianne Deehan, one of many retired Emory Healthcare professionals who volunteer on a regular basis.

"And they were desperate for supplies," Julianne Daffin, her co-volunteer chimed in.

"Yeah they were desperate for supplies," said Marianne.

There are plenty of nonprofit programs seeking volunteer assistance, but both the volunteers and staff members at MedShare say they're drawn to the organization because they feel their efforts more directly and positively impact the lives of people in need.

"We feel compelled to come here really, “ said Daffin. “ It's a driving force.”

Giving The Help, Without The Waste

MedShare's CEO and President, Dr. Charles Redding, began his work with the organization after a longtime career with Johnson and Johnson. He said there was more to his decision to leave his post at J&J than the charity-driven nature of MedShare.

"I can tell you that my motivation to join MedShare did not come from the fact that it's a nonprofit,” said Redding.” What really attracted me was MedShare's mission--the notion that there was a company that was saving the environment by preventing product from ending up in landfills, and at the same time, they were repurposing the product to help people in need around the world.”

Now in its sixteenth year, MedShare strives to increase its global impact. With facilities now fully operating in San Francisco and Newark, the nonprofit has a wider network of medical supplies and volunteers.

According to MedShare's 2013 fiscal year report, the nonprofit delivered $18 million dollars of medical supplies and equipment internationally.

Local hospitals and clinics donate equipment and supplies in each of the organization's three base cities. Once the items are delivered to MedShare, they must pass through many hands to ensure expiration dates have not passed.

Here’s how MedShare is different from similar nonprofits: medical professionals in need can hand select the items their facilities need through an online program. This helps to eliminate sending unnecessary surplus. The organization saves what would otherwise be wasted materials from junking up landfills across the United States.

"I think we're saving like over two million pounds of waste, you know, by repackaging these goods," said Sharon Skalinski, who organized a large group of her coworkers at Travelers Insurance for a volunteer day at MedShare.

One of MedShare’s current projects is sending medical supplies to Africa to help treat the Ebola outbreak killing hundreds in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

"This is the worst outbreak in the history of Ebola," said Dr. Redding. "I've been monitoring the situation really since it started and watching the numbers as they continue to escalate. Right now, we're talking about over 800 cases of people that have contacted the disease, which is unfathomable."

The organization’s staff was saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, one of the region's lead Ebola doctors

who was working to assist outbreak efforts. MedShare and Khan had communicated somewhat consistently about materials needed in those West African countries.

"I'm from Gambia and I chose to do this because being from Gambia, it's a developing country and I do see the need for them to have such services given to them,” said Adama Jallow, a first-time volunteer from Travelers Insurance. It's a humbling experience to be here actually and to be able to change somebody's life.”

At the conclusion of the volunteer day, Alvaro asked the volunteers to gather around. He revealed the final count of boxes packed and the number of lives that will be impacted by that contribution.

Alvaro also announced another bit of good news about that little boy in Nicaragua who could no longer walk due to sores-- the products MedShare delivered have him back on his feet.

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