Above: MedShare Chief Development Officer Susan Blair Brandt shows the group a map of the 97 countries that receive medical supplies.

In concert with incoming Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta CEO Eric Robbins’ charge to build community and unite through action around social justice issues, 50 people from various faiths and backgrounds came together at the MedShare Atlanta headquarters June 12 to learn about the organization and to sort and package donated medical supplies to fill a container to be shipped abroad.

Lois Frank and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta coordinated the interfaith effort. Jewish community members joined representatives from Compassionate Atlanta, Interfaith Community Initiatives/World Pilgrims, Sisters United, and three Muslim entities: Ismaili Community Center, Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam and Clarkston Community of Refugees.

IV poles are ready to be shipped from the MedShare warehouse.

IV poles are ready to be shipped from the MedShare warehouse.

Upon arrival, all were encouraged to have lunch quickly, out of deference to the Muslims who would be arriving shortly but would not be eating because of the daily Ramadan fast. The assembled group was then educated about the purpose, partners and work of MedShare.

With a tagline of “Improving the quality of life of people and our planet,” MedShare takes a multipronged approach to medical and humanitarian aid, waste reduction, and resource sourcing. MedShare has sent an estimated $157 million in medical supplies to 97 countries in 1,325 shipments to date, and its 19,000 volunteers in three regions collect and redistribute some of the 5.9 million tons of excess durable medical supplies Health Care Without Harm estimates are generated in the United States annually.

To further streamline and reduce waste, over the past 17 years MedShare has created a detailed ordering, storage and supply system so that countries can order and receive only the items they need.

Although the barrels of unused surgical supplies, damaged shipping boxes of products and other equipment are donated, every 40-foot container (valued between $125,000 and $175,000) costs $43,000 to assemble and ship. That money comes from thousands of individual donors, partners including King & Spalding and Buckhead Church, and such benefactors as the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, Halyard Health, the UPS Foundation, Covidien, World Vision and Henry Schein.

Susan Blair Brandt, MedShare’s chief development officer, said the organization helps level the playing field by meeting the need for basic health care around the world. That isn’t always easy: MedShare ships to war-torn regions and conflict zones and often has to partner with local agencies on the ground to take the supplies to their final destination.

Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta board member Lois Frank strategizes with World Pilgrims Program Director Jan Swanson.

Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta board member Lois Frank strategizes with World Pilgrims Program Director Jan Swanson.

“It pleases my heart to see so many different people, different races, different ethnicities, different religions, all coming together to work,” Brandt said of the interfaith group.

Frank expressed a “deep satisfaction in our work at MedShare” through “participating in a fast-moving, purposeful project.” She added, “Meeting and working side by side with a diverse, committed cadre of other faith communities was enriching.”

During the two-hour shift, the team packaged 2,480 pounds of products, including gauze and needles, surgical gloves and gowns, sponges, catheters, electro-surgical knives, and cable and lead wire systems that would have otherwise gone to waste. The 211 boxes were bound for Ethiopia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Nigeria, Uganda, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Photos by Leah R. Harrison