Partners for World Health started out as one woman’s effort to end the wasteful disposal of perfectly good medical supplies by delivering them to war-torn and poverty-stricken areas around the world.

Now the nonprofit is growing so fast that founder Elizabeth McLellan is moving it out of a cramped warehouse in South Portland to a bigger facility on Walch Drive in Portland, purchased for the group by an out-of-state donor who read about the organization years ago in a Portland Press Herald column by Bill Nemitz.

McLellan hopes to combine the group’s collection and shipping operations at the new location and raise $2 million over the next two years so she can buy the building from the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous.

“I believe in this. This is the right thing to do,” said McLellan, a former nursing supervisor at Maine Medical Center. The group is moving and plans to reopen at the new facility Jan. 17.

McClellan started the nonprofit in her home in 2007, and it has grown in the intervening years to have a global reach.

With the help of a small army of volunteers, she collects usable medical supplies being discarded by hospitals and medical centers from as far away as Vermont. The goods are collected at more than a dozen regional sites, then sent to the South Portland facility to be sorted and stored. Numerous times a year, the group fills a shipping container with up to 50,000 pounds of medical equipment and supplies that it sends by freighter to wherever they are most needed around the world.

The supplies range from bulky hospital beds, wheelchairs and walkers to simple hand-rolled tourniquets and syringes.

“We sent 450 tourniquets to nurses in Bangladesh and it was the best present they’ve ever had,” McLellan said.


In the United States, government regulations forbid the reuse of many medical items simply because they were brought into patients’ rooms and classified as “used,” even if they were in unopened, sterile packaging. When she started, McLellan gathered those items and personally delivered bags stuffed with supplies to hospitals and clinics on her trips to Africa, Central America and Southeast Asia.

Word spread, and soon medical supplies were filling her kitchen, dining room and basement. She moved the operation to a small warehouse, then to a series of larger leased spaces. Volunteers now number in the hundreds, and the group’s supplies have landed in such places as Syria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Haiti, Nepal and Uganda. There are 15 college-based Partners for World Health chapters that collect medical supplies in their region.

In addition to providing supplies, Partners for World Health sponsors six medical missions a year, taking doctors, nurses and students to provide medical care in Southeast Asia and Africa.

The group also puts on monthly seminars to educate medical students and community members about global health care issues.


Today, McLellan said the nonprofit has three paid employees. According to its I-990 tax filing for 2014, the organization had assets of $245,000, with donations and grants of $150,000.

The $2 million she hopes to raise would allow the group to consolidate its distribution and shipping facilities into one location, pay for renovation at the new facility and allow McLellan to hire a few more people, such as a volunteer coordinator and a development director to take over fundraising.

“We need a big angel,” she said.

That’s because the demand isn’t going away anytime soon, particularly in places where conflict has decimated local infrastructure and medical facilities. The group has sent multiple containers to Syria and last month shipped a container to a Greek island where Syrian refugees are arriving, she said.

“We have five more requests for containers, two to Senegal, two to Uganda and one to Malawi,” she said, pausing a moment before rattling off a series of additional destinations. “And two to Tanzania and one to Greece.”

It’s clearly hard to keep track.

“We have even more projects going on,” she said. “I knew the recycling effort would grow, but I didn’t realize how much of a need it would be.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.