A Falls Church warehouse has boxes stacked, crutches piled and various other medical supplies gathered by the bay door, waiting to be packed and shipped to Nigeria. Not long afterwards, volunteers will gather up more supplies to ship to Liberia. And just last week, the volunteers filled a 40-foot container bound for Senegal.
At CrossLink International, it is a never ending cycle of collecting, recording, packing and shipping. The nonprofit, nondenominational organization collects medicines, medical supplies, surgical equipment and recycled eyeglasses to send along with medical missions overseas or to ship to a waiting humanitarian-aid organization on the other side of the world or even next door here.
"It began as a mission project in a Sunday school class in 1993. We filled and shipped 17 containers until 1996 when the project ended. We sent medicines, warm clothing and nonperishable goods," said Linda Cook, executive director of CrossLink. "When the project ended, CrossLink opened and was incorporated in 1997. Since then we've sent $19 million worth of medical aid to 80 countries and within the U.S."
Cook was a member of the original Sunday school class and began at CrossLink as a volunteer.
CURRENTLY, the organization helps 19 free clinics throughout Virginia by providing free medicines and medical supplies, through partnerships with local hospitals and doctors in Fairfax, Arlington, Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford counties. Participating hospitals include Inova Health Systems, Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington and the Hospice of Northern Virginia, and through donations from pharmaceutical companies and private citizens. CrossLink also works with local Lions Clubs to collect and ship recycled eyeglasses.
"CrossLink has been generous to us for six or seven years. They started by distributing supplies overseas, but then discovered there was a need locally. We have a wonderful partnership," said Nancy Pallesen, executive director of the Arlington Free Clinic. "They get medicines and distribute them to us. Sometimes, we get medicines and supplies we can't use and give them to CrossLink. It's a very good partnership."
In fact, Cook said CrossLink may be the only nonprofit licensed as a warehouser and distributor of pharmaceuticals by the Virginia Board of Pharmacy. The organization is not licensed for and does not accept donations of narcotics. The license allows CrossLink to purchase needed medicines at a lower cost. The organization follows Federal Drug Administration regulations and therefore does not ship medicines that have been recalled, are close to their expiration date or have already expired.
"We work with the clinics because we have some medicines that are short dated and they can use them before they expire," Cook said.
In addition, CrossLink accepts donations of supplies such as crutches, wheel chairs, hospital beds and other supplies that can not be returned when they are no longer of use to a family.
While the organization keeps medicines and supplies on hand, typically a mission group will contact the group with its list of needed supplies for a future trip. CrossLink then sets about gathering the needed items, helping filling out the necessary customs paperwork for transporting the goods to another country and packing the shipping containers, which can range from 20-foot to 40-foot containers. Cook said a 40-foot container can cost anywhere from $2,700 to $6,000 to ship depending on its destination. The costs are paid either by the group going on the mission or through donations made to CrossLink. Cook said the organization asks for at least four weeks lead time, but has been able to help with less notice.
"Last year, we completed 259 projects and had 300 on the books. We completed another 20 at the beginning of the year, that were started last year and have 50-some projects on the books already for this year," Cook said. "Realistically, I don't think we can handle more than 300 project per year."
BESIDES HELPING OVERSEAS, CrossLink compiles a list of the medicines it has on hand each month and sends it to the clinics. The clinics let CrossLink what they need from the list and in turn lets the organization know what supplies they may have going unused.
"We get a whole range of medicines from CrossLink," said Joanne Stasio, a nurse at the Arlington Free Clinic. "From diabetes and hypertension medicines to anti-inflammatories and asthma medicines."
Stasio said the clinic provides outpatient service to county residents who don't have health insurance.
Without CrossLink, Pallesen said the clinic would have to buy many of the medicines it now receives for free. In addition, she said the organization will provide specifically requested medicines when needed and in some cases, nongeneric medicines, which the clinic would not be able to purchase on its own.
CrossLink has three full-time, paid employees, one paid, part-time employee and the rest of the work, including picking up donations, sorting and labeling, paperwork, and packing is done by volunteers.
"Everything we do is individualized," Cook said. "No two missions are the same. It's a lot of work."
The organization must also keep detailed records, which include what was shipped and to whom to ensure the medicines and supplies are getting to their intended destination. Cook, however, said there have been a couple times when things did not work out as planned.
In one instance, she said, a container had been broken into in Brazil. In another case, a doctor was going to China and landed at a different airport than the container. As a result, everything was confiscated, Cook said. There was another time when CrossLink shipped a container and the person meeting it on the other end did not have the paperwork filled out properly. The medicines were held up while everything had to be worked out.
"I have as much information as I can about the group overseas [receiving the shipments]. I have turned people down," Cook said. "There have been a couple of groups I didn't have a good feeling about and a couple of groups I won’t work with again."
CrossLink International, located at 427 N. Maple Ave. in Falls Church, is always looking for volunteers and donations. For more information, call 703-534-5465 or on the Web site at www.crosslinkinternational.net.