Direct Relief’s Home Team

A group of Santa Barbara High School grads is having a positive impact on worldwide healthcare while headquartered in their hometown. No less than four SBHS alumni are part of the 24-person staff at Direct Relief International, the locally based global nonprofit agency that provides essential materials to areas hit by disaster.

Annie Maxwell, a 1997 SBHS graduate, was the first in a wave of Dons. She caught wind of the organization in 2002, when CEO Thomas Tighe was on the cover of Santa Barbara Magazine.

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“My mom, in probably one of her valiant efforts to try to get all of her children close to home, sent it to me at Michigan when I was at school and said, ‘you should work here,'” said Annie, who started as an unpaid intern and is now Chief of Staff.

She’s currently on special assignment in New York, working at the United Nations under former President Bill Clinton, the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.

In a matter of days, “I went from a warehouse in a beach town to a UN high rise with security and dogs sniffing bombs,” said Annie. “I keep waiting for the director to call cut.”

Her longtime friends — Lucy Anderson, Damon Taugher and Brett Williams, all class of 1998 — are also stoked at their good fortune in being able to have a positive impact on relief efforts such as Hurricane Katrina.

The organization’s gotten this great lift from having them here, said Thomas, who praises his young colleagues as hard working, incredibly smart and disarmingly polite.

Plus their affection and respect for each other and for the mission of Direct Relief is contagious.

“It’s great work because the more you do, the more people are directly affected,” said Brett, the warehouse manager, calling from Ecuador, where he detoured from sightseeing to visit potential partners for Direct Relief.

Lucy also took time off from serving as development manager to visit Direct Relief hospitals while vacationing in Nepal. “It was far and away the highlight of my trip, just seeing the difference that one Direct Relief shipment can make was incredible.”

Based on his own vision, Damon is now directing a new program that has provided $12 million in free medicines to clinics throughout California, a new direction for Direct Relief.

“I don’t think anyone when they’re 14 says ‘wow do you think we could be influential in running the largest international aid organization in California in ten years,'” said Annie. “It’s just not something that you usually say over lunch in the quad. … I was more worried about not failing my English quiz and hoping that we’d beat San Marcos.”

How Direct Relief Helps

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

August 29 and September 24, 2005

At least 37 tons of medical and personal care supplies–soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.–have been shipped (FedEx did it free of charge) to at least 41 health facilities in the Gulf region. DRI also donated $1.1 million in cash grants to clinics and hospitals there.

India Flood Disaster

July 26, 2005

More than $800,000 of anti-infective and antiparasitic agents, analgesics, rehydration salts and water purification tablets were sent to the Mumbai Public Health Department.

Earthquake/Tsunami in Southeast Asia

December 26, 2004

More than $32 million in cash and supplies–enough to administer full courses of pharmaceutical treatment to at least three million people–were donated to healthcare facilities and nonprofit organizations in the affected countries.

Southern California Wildfires

October 21-November 4, 2003

With a donation from Alcon Laboratories, 6,000 units of eye lubricant were sent to firefighters and public safety officials in San Diego.

To donate, contact Direct Relief International, 27 S. La Patera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93117, 805-964-4767,

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine in Winter 2006.

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