Since 1948, Direct Relief has worked to help people who confront enormous hardship to recover from disasters and improve the quality of their lives. The tradition of direct and targeted assistance, provided in a manner that respects and involves the people served, has been a hallmark of the organization since its founding.
In 1945, William Zimdin, an Estonian immigrant who had amassed significant wealth in prewar Europe, began sending thousands of relief parcels containing food, clothing, and medicines to relatives, friends, and former employees who were rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of World War II.
He established the William Zimdin Foundation on August 23, 1948, as a California-based non-profit corporation. Having witnessed the impacts of unchecked power, Zimdin dedicated his life’s fortune to the oppressed, shunning the fascism that had caused him to flee Hitler’s Europe for his life.
After Zimdin’s death in 1951, Dezso (Dennis) Karczag, a Hungarian immigrant and Zimdin’s close business associate, assumed management of the organization.
In 1957, the organization changed its name to the Direct Relief Foundation, and in 1982, renamed again and became known as Direct Relief International.
Direct Relief provided postwar assistance to enable people to help themselves. In 1950, a revolving loan fund was established to provide refugees with small grants to establish new lives. Repaid funds provided capital for subsequent grantees. While the individual grant program ceased in the early 1960s, the underlying notion remains integral to current programs.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Direct Relief received many requests for assistance related to health issues beyond Europe. The organization’s leadership decided that providing medical assistance to indigenous facilities would achieve the greatest overall impact. Direct Relief’s mission was refined to serve disadvantaged populations living in medically underserved communities throughout the world.
In 1962, Direct Relief became licensed as a wholesale pharmacy to secure prescription medicines for use abroad. This experience in handling pharmaceuticals led to the development of strict internal protocols regarding the suitability of types of products, inventory controls, and the qualifications of trained health professionals on the receiving end of aid shipments. This focus also established strong ties to U.S. healthcare companies, which have long supported our efforts with donations of high-value pharmaceutical and other medical resources allocated through our assistance program.
Since its inception, Direct Relief has provided aid in response to emergencies and to refugee populations. Beginning with postwar refugee assistance in Eastern Europe and Greece, Direct Relief has also provided support for more than 40 years to Tibetan refugees and has consistently responded with targeted medical aid following major emergencies since the 1970 Peru earthquake.
Today, Direct Relief provides appropriate and specifically requested medical resources to community-based institutions and organizations throughout the world and across the United States.