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 his him to flee Hitler’s Europe for his life.
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.