Pittsburgh Nonprofit Profile: Global Links
The Green Tree nonprofit sends medical equipment to countries in need in addition to assisting Pittsburghers so they can live safely, independently and with dignity.
Above the front desk in the Global Links headquarters in Green Tree sits a beautiful glass mosaic depicting the work performed by this 33-year-old nonprofit.
Filled with vibrant colors and organic, free-flowing shapes, the artwork by Pittsburgh artist Daviea Davis provides a visual demonstration of how the organization distributes used medical equipment. On the left side of the piece, individuals work together to collect and organize supplies, then package them to be shipped around the world. In the center, a cargo ship is depicted carrying these supplies to those who need them. Finally, on the right, the equipment is unloaded and used in a medical facility to care for a patient.
Global Links was founded by three women — Kathleen Hower, Emily Solomon and Brenda Smith — in 1989 and aims to provide underserved communities, both domestically and abroad, with gently used or new medical equipment that would otherwise be sent to landfills. At the time, it was the first organization in the country to recover and reuse surplus medical supplies from hospitals and clinical care settings.
“They were activists,” says Angela Garcia, Global Links executive director since 2018, of the founders. “They were sustainability champions and visionaries.”
In its 30+ years, the nonprofit has worked on global health projects across Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. In the recent past, it has operated large programs in Honduras, Bolivia, Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Global Links has scaled up its domestic aid programs to assist local communities in need of medical equipment and personal hygiene products.
Garcia highlighted the large older population in Western Pennsylvania, as well as the region’s poor air quality, as significant factors in understanding the health needs of the Pittsburgh community. The goal is to help residents in the area live safely, independently and with dignity in their homes and communities.
The organization’s domestic aid focuses on four key components: personal health and hygiene, mobility and safety, respiratory health and incontinence. It looks to provide items that are not covered by Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP benefits or other government assistance programs — as well as those for which copays are cost-prohibitive to lower-income individuals.
One of Global Links’ guiding principles is respect for the environment. It makes a point to donate equipment that can be used immediately by its partners so as not to present a storage or disposal burden for them.
“We can’t solve every problem,” Garcia says. “But we can have a greater impact when we have meaningful conversation, dialogue and work together — and it’s community driven. We never give a list and be like, ‘What do you want?’ It’s about having a dialogue.”
In 2013, Global Links moved into a 58,000-square-foot headquarters that provides space to process, repair and pack materials. Garcia emphasizes the importance of volunteers in organizing and maintaining the warehouse and donated equipment. Before the pandemic, Global Links welcomed between 3,000 and 4,000 volunteers each year. “They’re the ones that take the surplus and work the magic — sort it, count it, pack it, check expiration dates, do all that quality work that turns it from a mixed bag into exact donations to get to the exact end users — what they need, when they need it, and respecting the quality of what they need,” she says.
Garcia looks to Pittsburgh as an immeasurable asset to the organization’s values and culture. “We love what we do here. I see it as an opportunity. It’s a Pittsburgh company, right? We were founded here by three women from here. We’ve grown over 33 years now. And everybody from Pittsburgh can get involved in different ways,” she says.
Garcia emphasizes that every individual has a capacity to help in their own way. “Surplus time, surplus dollars, surplus materials, surplus interest, and that’s where the ‘sharing surplus and saving lives’ is. It’s not just materials.”
700 Trumbull Drive, Green Tree
Global Links recently announced a collaboration with The Blessing Board — a nonprofit that provides donated household furnishings free to those in need — to distribute home health care items from Blessing Board showrooms in Shaler and West Mifflin. The free items include walkers, bathing stools and benches, transport chairs, wheelchairs and rollators. Those who need any of these items can fill out an online application for an appointment at blessingboard.org (under Contact Us) to begin the process.