I, like most people I know (and most I imagine), have been riveted by the terrible situation in Haiti and cheered by the few bright spots amid the suffering.

Here in the ‘Burgh, we were especially drawn to the rescue of 54 orphans from the BRESMA orphanage run by two local sisters, Jamie and Ali McMutrie, largely orchestrated through a grassroots effort that began with a fellow local blogger, Virginia Montanez of That’s Church. (Although calling her a fellow blogger is more than a little literary license — a bit like calling Martha Stewart a “fellow gardener.”)

I dreamt of Haitian orphans last night. I see them and want to start adoption proceedings immediately. But instead, I, like most people I know (and most I imagine) made a small donation and prayed both for those suffering and those trying to help. I’m privileged to know one such helping organization, Global Links, personally.

Pittsburgh-based Global Links has been working with Hôpital Albert Schweitzer staff as well as local physicians deploying with disaster relief agencies to procure donations of needed medical materials, medicines, and equipment. In addition to providing donations from its own inventory, Global Links is fielding and directing solicitations to UPMC and its network of vendors.

Global Links also provided local first-responder physicians who secured transportation to Haiti  with key medical materials to hand-carry on their flights, including sutures, bandages, surgical instruments, gloves, casting materials, and more. Items most commonly needed by all medical personnel working in Haiti now range from sutures and crutches to antibiotics and bandages to surgical instrumentation, X-ray film and more. Global Links has been directing the collection, preparation, packing, and shipping of these supplies.

Even more, Global Links has been and will be working in Haiti for years to come as this poor, poor nation and people strive to recover.

The selflessness of individuals like the McMutries, the efforts of humanitarian organizations like Global Links, and the tremendous skill and commitment of our own military men and women have been so inspiring to see. They make what I do every day or any little triviality I may write about fade away in comparison. So for now, I’ll just pass along a bit of their stories — they deserve all the telling and all the credit we can give. And while you have a minute, please say a quick prayer for Haiti’s people — they, too, deserve all the help we can give.

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Totally bragging (for a good cause)

I know we all have our favorite charities and causes we choose to support. I am very privileged to have an inside view of Global Links, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that sends surplus medical equipment and supplies donated by hospitals and companies in this country to needy hospitals and clinics in Latin America. It keeps these still-useful supplies from ending up in a landfill and meets an incredible need for even the most basic medical goods in the developing world.

For example, did you know:

  • Before you can have surgery in some countries you have to bring your own suture, and that suture can cost as much as you might make in a month. (In this country, unused suture is often discarded. Once it has been laid out for surgery, and its outer wrapping removed, it cannot be reused, even though it is still wrapped and sterile.)
  • Mattresses are at a premium. Sometimes patients must share a bed, or a mattress on the floor, or lie on the floor itself.
  • “Disposable” gloves are often carefully washed and reused, over and over.
  • Women may travel for miles and miles to give birth in the region’s only hospital or clinic. When they arrive, they must often deliver in their street clothes because there are no gowns or linens (some patients bring their own linens, if they are able).

What do I mean by “surplus”? Well, hospitals change out their equipment, tools, and furnishings all the time. They might choose to use a different vendor’s equipment, or a different type of needle/syringe. They exchange mattresses and beds for newer ones. They basically try to provide state-of-the-art everything, because in this country, that’s what’s expected. It doesn’t mean the materials they’re swapping aren’t still useful — they are useful, and desperately needed in other countries. Even things like chairs for waiting patients or cabinets to hold supplies, or crutches, wheelchairs, soap (!), even paint — so much need and so much in this country that goes to waste.

There’s much more to the story — and I can’t do it justice here ( is a good place to learn more). But I’m excited that this year marks Global Links’ 20th anniversary! Twenty years (that went by in a flash) and 3,000 tons of surplus worth $140 million distributed. And it all began around a kitchen table as a true start-up by three “founding mothers.”

As I mentioned, I have an insider view of Global Links. Why? Because one of those founding mothers is my sister, now Global Links’ executive director. Yep, the same “big sister” who sang to me when I was little…the green-thumb/great cook who taught me everything I know about gardening and cooking (and eating? she taught me the proper way to hold a knife and fork)…the perennial fixer-upper who can’t pick a paint color to save her life… and the only one of us who is almost never on time for anything…is also a world-travelin’, make-it-happen humanitarian who is making a difference for thousands of people and the planet.

She recently gave an interview to Her Startup, LLC. Check it out if you want to learn a little more about this homegrown nonprofit success story. And please forgive my bragging — as I said, it’s for a good cause.

No one should die for lack of what others throw away. (SM)
~ Global Links’ tagline