A local entrepreneur and a local medical surplus nonprofit have joined forces to provide medical supplies to a clinic in Honduras. Currently, the “emergency room” of the clinic has only two beds, and women who are expecting wait their turn to deliver their babies in a mud-floored shelter across the street.
In just a couple of weeks, the Simon Contreras Medical Clinic in Marcala, Honduras, which is the only clinic serving 90,000 residents there, will be receiving a 40-foot ocean-going shipping container filled with over 19,104 pounds of life-saving medical devices, supplies and beds.
The much-needed supplies were arranged by the Safai Arabica Farm Assistance Initiative, founded in 2011 by Mike Safai of Safai Coffee, and Supplies Over Seas, founded in 1993 by Dr. Norton Waterman and members of the Greater Louisville Medical Society.
This Thanksgiving, Safai said, 14 people from his company and foundation, as well as family and friends will be traveling to Honduras to help unload the supplies and paint the walls of the clinic with antimicrobial paint that they shipped.
“These are the most beautiful people you ever met in your life,” Safai said in an interview.
Unfortunately, one Honduran guide with whom Safai worked with on coffee bean sourcing expeditions will be not be there to greet the crew. One day while Safai was touring the farms last year, the guide was a no-show, Safai explained. Apparently, the night before he suffered a heart attack, but the clinic had no EKG machine, so they sent him to a hospital six hours away for treatment. The guide died en route, Safai said, as he wiped away tears.
Safai’s purchasing manager, Heather Bishop, immediately ordered the clinic a brand new EKG machine from Amazon.
The clinic will be receiving 20 hospital beds; two labor and delivery beds; four infant warmers; four bassinets; four exam tables; two new mother chairs; vital signs monitors; nebulizers; breast pumps; fetal monitors; exam lights; otoscopes, oxygen concentrators and pallets of medical supplies. SOS provided the logistics, volunteers and procured the supplies.
SAFAI also received donations from companies working with Safai Coffee. Sysco Guest Supplies, which supplies hotels with soft goods and other supplies, donated 3,000 towels and 800 bed sheets to the shipment, for example.
Safai founded the SAFAI Initiative when farms from which he had previously sourced beans were ravaged by a disease called rust. The fungal disease spread from farm to farm decimating the shrubs and leaving the hundreds years old farms lying fallow.
Safai said it broke his heart. These weren’t just any farmers to him, he said, he felt a part of the community. Even if they did have the money to replant with resistant beans, it would take three years before the plants started bearing fruit. These families had lost their livelihoods.
Safai said that he asked his guide how much it would take to get the farms back on their feet — to cover all the supplies to turn them into organic coffee farms again and three years of support while they waited for the beans to mature.
The guide did some mental calculations and said, “$3,500.”
Safai replied: “OK. $3,500 a year for three years.”
“No,” the guide said. “$3,500 total.”
Safai, an immigrant from Iran, and his wife, Medora, agreed to fund 80 farms. To qualify, farms needed to be 50 percent or more dead, and they would need to replant with organic beans only. What’s more, they would need to dedicate 75 percent to coffee and 25 percent to vegetables, so they could eat them and sell them at the farmers’ market to ensure that they would be making money while they waited the three years.
The local coffee co-op decided to match the Safais’ generosity and other donors stepped up, and according to Safai, around 620 farms have been sponsored. Neighboring countries have come to the SAFAI seeking advice and a model for rescuing their own farms, he said.
Supplies Over Seas
Supplies Over Seas made the shipping the container possible for SAFAI. CEO Melissa Mershon said that Safai had initially talked to a similar organization in the Northeast, and that they had referred him to SOS. “Right in his backyard,” she said.
Many of the supplies that ended up in the SAFAI container came from SOS’s 30,000-square-foot warehouse full of medical surplus, just off Spring St. Medical surplus too often ends up in the landfills, she said, and SOS provides a way to save both people and the environment.
What’s medical surplus? Mershon explained it like this: Let’s say you’ve been hospitalized and had to have a surgery and spend the night. Someone on your medical team might pull a box of gauze to tend to your incisions. It might take two or three packages of gauze out of a box of 12 to care for your wound while you’re there. Once you are released from the hospital, the staff will toss the rest of the box of gauze (and charge you for the whole box) even though the gauze packages are individually wrapped.
Other instances in which medical surplus is routinely sent to the landfill include supplies that have a looming expiration date and medical devices, when upgrades or newer versions are stocked. (When people die, their loved ones can also donate their medical supplies and devices to SOS.)
Supplies Over Seas can set up collection bins in hospitals, clinics and private practices, so instead of tossing the perfectly usable supplies and devices, they can be sent to underserved hospitals and clinics abroad. SOS also donates surplus hygiene products to local shelters and social service organizations, as well as to animal welfare organizations.
Last year alone, SOS diverted 153 tons of medical supplies from landfills. Year-to-date, the organization has diverted 121 tons. Typically, the group sends a dozen shipping containers a year.
SOS has only six full-time employees and most of the labor of sorting and packing supplies at the warehouse falls to volunteers, many of whom are “regulars.” All medical devices are tested by volunteer certified biomedical engineers.
While Safai does have one coffee shop on Bardstown Road, the company’s primary focus is selling to the hospitality industry. The company says it has coffee in more than 350,000 hotel rooms across the country, including in La Quintas, Marriott Vacation Clubs and Hyatt Places. Safai is in the process of moving his roasting business from La Grange, Ky., to Smoketown in Louisville. He teased that a new account will double the company’s numbers and will help him add 40 new employees in the next year.