Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Global Links focused an estimated 85-90% of its efforts on international disaster response and just 10-15% on domestic resources. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit had just started the process of completing their 2020 strategic plan when cases started skyrocketing. Global Links took its 30-year track record of securing health and medical supplies and delivering them globally to communities hit by catastrophes and put its expertise to use in Western Pennsylvania.
According to Executive Director Angela Garcia, every disaster is different. You have different needs and different partners. There are active disasters and perpetual crises. However, the needs are the same – food, water, and shelter then continuing childhood education and connecting adults with meaningful jobs. Global Links is particularly skilled at linking suppliers with distributors, linking funding paths to organizations that have established on-the-ground connections, and right-sizing systems to minimize the distance between those in need and resources that can save them.
Global Links established partnerships with agencies such as Allegheny County Department of Human Services, ACCESS Transit, and Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank to locate, amass, and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and incontinence products to nonprofit agencies providing in-person services. The collaboration with ACCESS meant that its vans that previously shuttled people instead safely delivered shipments of masks, face shields, gloves, sanitizer, and diapers to hundreds of organizations. At the time, many of these supplies were difficult for nonprofits to find and buy but PPE was necessary, and they adapted an existing delivery system that just made sense.
Additionally, they know through their work that the most requested supplies in disasters are personal hygiene items. So, they used their purchasing experience to buy supplies for uniform kits and delivered over 6000 kits, each of which included a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap, deodorant, shampoo, and lotion, to over 50 agencies. One of the goals of the Personal Care Kit project going forward is to source some hygiene products from local minority- and women-owned suppliers.
Collectively, they provided $2.4 million worth of supplies to more than 402 local safety net organizations, 600 childcare providers, and 142 low-resourced schools, including organizations such as the Somali Bantu Association, the Center for Hearing & Deaf Services, and Bethany Community Ministries.
The nonprofit built new partnerships with local manufacturers producing PPE, preserving jobs in the region. These companies included Protohaven, Wilkinsburg; American Textile, Duquesne; Day Owl/Thread, Homewood, and Abram’s Nation, Hampton. Additionally, Global Links worked to secure grants from several foundations, including two first-time funders that supported their work to help create sustainable business models past the use of the funds.
The lessons learned from the pandemic have been invaluable and are still coming. There are better ways of working and there is no simple way to do this work if we are to do it equitably. There is a new understanding and appreciation of the range of nonprofits throughout Western PA and those they serve. Nonprofits need to remain motivated, communicative, and connected, and reimagine ways we can work together.