Knowledge Center

Banking on KC – Kristin Robinson


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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. With us on this episode is Kristin Robinson, the Executive Director of Project C.U.R.E. in Kansas City. Welcome Kristin.

Kristin Robinson:

Thank you so much, Kelly.

Kelly Scanlon:

Project C.U.R.E., it's the world's largest distributor of donated medical equipment and supplies, and that goes to developing countries around the world. Tell us about how Project C.U.R.E. got started and briefly what you do.

Kristin Robinson:

In 1987, Dr. James Jackson, who lived in Colorado, he was a business consultant, and was in Brazil doing some consulting. While he was there, he visited a medical clinic and what he saw there just tore his heart out. The doctors and nurses didn't have the supplies that they needed. The patients weren't able to get the best care possible due to a lack of supplies and equipment. When he came back to the States, he started collecting medical supplies in his garage, and just wanted to do something to help the folks that he had visited in Brazil. Really, it started from there. Then someone had donated some money to him to continue his work, and the rest is history.

Kelly Scanlon:

You're operating across the globe, including a Franciscan Mission Warehouse here in Kansas City. And it has an especially interesting story. Can you give us the background on that?

Kristin Robinson:

The history here in Kansas City is the Franciscan Mission Warehouse was a ministry that was run by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist in Independence, Missouri. They started doing essentially the same thing that Project C.U.R.E. does. About 25 years ago, they were shipping medical supplies to countries around the globe. They did that quietly in Independence, on their property there in a small warehouse facility, and shipped about 12 to 13 container shipments a year.

Kristin Robinson:

And then in about 2019, they've grown it to a point where they needed to find someone to affiliate with. There's only 13 of the sisters left. They are all aging, and it was getting to a point where, for the ministry to continue, they needed to find someone to partner up with, and they found that in Project C.U.R.E. In summer of 2020, the affiliation was complete and the newest Project C.U.R.E. warehouse facility opened. It is now Project C.U.R.E./Franciscan Mission Warehouse here in Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us a little bit more about your reach. I know that it's global and there's a warehouse here in Kansas City, but how many centers do you have across the country?

Kristin Robinson:

Sure. Project C.U.R.E. has seven distribution facilities. It's headquartered in Denver, Colorado. That's where the international headquarters are. There is a distribution center there. There's also one in Phoenix, one in Houston, one in Nashville, one in Chicago, one in Philadelphia, and then Kansas City. We like to say that we are lucky number seven here.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes, I think that's great. So really, you have them dispersed all geographically across the United States. Pretty much every sector of the US has a facility to serve it. Tell us more about your individual programs.

Kristin Robinson:

Our bread and butter program is our C.U.R.E. Cargo program. That is where we spend most of our time. That is a cargo program that we are shipping medical supplies and equipment in 40 foot cargo containers. We ship to about 135 countries, and we do close to 200 containers annually.

Kristin Robinson:

One thing that's unique about Project C.U.R.E. is that we have a very small national staff. So we have about 35 full-time employees, but we rely very heavily on help from volunteers. We have close to 30,000 volunteers nationwide who work in all of our warehouse facilities, helping us really do our job and fulfill our mission.

Kelly Scanlon:

For these containers that you ship, what is it that you ship? Medical supplies? Any and all medical supplies and devices and equipment, or are you focusing in on one particular area?

Kristin Robinson:

No. Anything that you could find in a hospital in the United States is what we have access to and what we ship. One thing that is really important to Project C.U.R.E. in our work is we conduct what's called a needs assessment with every partner and facility that we ship to. What that needs assessment does is we actually send a person who is a trained assessor from Project C.U.R.E. to that facility in the country where it's going. They sit down with the doctors and nurses there, really get a good understanding of what their challenges are, what their patient population looks like, what their needs are, priorities, and then together, they come up with a list of the items that they want in that container. So it can be anything from gauze and bandages to an anesthesia machine, depending on what their needs and capabilities are.

Kelly Scanlon:

I would assume that helps cut down on waste and it gets in their hands exactly what's needed, because what somebody in this part of the world may need would not be useful at all to somebody in a different country.

Kristin Robinson:

Exactly. So the last thing that we want to do is send a large piece of equipment that A, they don't need, or they don't have the capabilities to operate, or they don't have resources to fix it if things are broken. All of that is determined in the needs assessment. We want to make sure we are sending, like you said, exactly what their need is, and something that can sustain the long term. Really what our bottom line is you're wanting to help strengthen healthcare infrastructure. We're in partnership with them to really help them provide the best healthcare that they can and strengthen it for the long term.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talk about being in 130 plus countries and operating throughout the world, that's quite a logistics undertaking. How do you manage that?

Kristin Robinson:

At our international headquarters in Denver, we have national staff that that is their expertise. That is one thing also that sets Project C.U.R.E. apart is our folks really do know how to get items through customs in countries that we are working in. Every country has different stipulations and regulations. So it is really a specific expertise and knowledge, because the last thing we want to do is ship a container that gets held up in customs because something is on there that is not allowed in the country or the country may not accept expired goods. So all of that is paid attention to and worked out upfront so we don't run into those types of issues. So it's really about having the staff with the specific logistics expertise that is really great.

Kelly Scanlon:

What role does Kansas City's warehouse play in all of this? Do you have a percentage as to how much is shipped through Kansas City or out of the Kansas City warehouse?

Kristin Robinson:

Since we are the newest Project C.U.R.E. warehouse, we've taken a year to kind of get ramped up. But because we were new and moving in 2019, one interesting story is; Project C.U.R.E. received a large donation from Stryker, the hospital bed manufacturer. They donated 22,500 emergency relief beds and mattresses to Project C.U.R.E. And when we moved here in Kansas City, about half of our warehouse was still empty at the time. So we received a very large number of those emergency relief beds, which then in turn allowed us to do quite a few container shipments of just beds. So we had a high number of shipments this past year. We actually are leading. Of all the other warehouses, we have the most shipments out this fiscal year, largely due to the fact that we have all of these beds that we are shipping out.

Kelly Scanlon:

Can you give us any numbers over the course of your history that demonstrates the impact of your work worldwide?

Kristin Robinson:

Typically, we send 200 containers annually. And if you think, in those shipping containers there's typically anywhere from 400 to $500,000 worth of supplies and equipment, so it's really pretty remarkable in how much you can get into those shipping containers.

Kelly Scanlon:

How big are they?

Kristin Robinson:

They're 40 feet. Those big containers that you see on the back of ships, that's what we are shipping in.

Kelly Scanlon:

Over the years, do you have any idea of how many individuals you've been able to help?

Kristin Robinson:

Oh gosh. I mean, it's probably hundreds of thousands, maybe millions even. If you look at the number of clinics and facilities... When we're sending these containers, we're sending them specifically to a hospital or a clinic in all of the countries in which we work since 1987.

Kelly Scanlon:

A good example of what you're doing right now, even from Kansas City, is you're working to deliver some of those containers to Ukraine.

Kristin Robinson:

Yep, that's correct. Project C.U.R.E. has worked in Ukraine for more than 10 years. Prior to the invasion in late February, we had sent 53 containers to Ukraine to help get their hospital system more robust than what it was. When Russia invaded Ukraine, we already had friends and partners on the ground that we were working with. So we were able to react immediately. Since the end of February, we've had 20 air cargo shipments that have gone, which we've either sent or are in the shipping queue, 750 pallets that are shipped or staged and ready to go.

Kristin Robinson:

One really cool thing that was a first for Project C.U.R.E. Just this past weekend, we had our very own Project C.U.R.E. charter plane, an Airbus, that we were able to secure and fill with over 180 pallets worth of supplies that was going directly into Poland, and then all of those supplies will be distributed throughout Ukraine.

Kelly Scanlon:

Where do these goods come from? Where does this equipment and supplies come from to begin with?

Kristin Robinson:

Sure. We have partners and partnerships with local hospitals. Here in Kansas City, almost all of the major hospital systems work with us. And then it's the same way in all of our Project C.U.R.E. communities. We take their excess supplies or when they're retiring out their equipment; they give it to us and we test it and fix it up and get it ready for shipment. We also have partnerships with several medical manufacturers, such as Stryker, the one that I just mentioned with all of those beds. So it comes both from the hospitals and the manufacturers.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've mentioned that you work in well more than 100, 130 some countries throughout the world. What are some other examples besides Ukraine where your activities are making a difference?

Kristin Robinson:

Sure. Two of the countries that we were the most active in this past year was Ethiopia and Nigeria. In Ethiopia, there is quite a significant civil war conflict that has been going on and has really devastated the northern part of the country. And many, many of the hospitals and clinics have been damaged or almost ruined, which is significant because obviously if there's a civil war going on, there are many, many people that are injured needing that care or access to that care. So we've sent hundreds of pallets to Northern Ethiopia. Also working with the Ministry of Health work on a rebuilding program in the areas where the conflict has settled down to help so that their facilities can be rebuilt and have the supplies and the tools that they need to treat those people that are sick or injured.

Kristin Robinson:

In Nigeria, one big project that we worked on this past year was we sent shipments to over 11 teaching hospitals. That was part of a program that really trying to bolster what these teaching hospitals have to offer to their medical students when they are coming through doing their training so they have the tools that they need to learn how to be doctors. Without those items, they wouldn't be able to get the full scope of what they are needing to learn for that profession. Those 11 teaching hospitals received containers from us that included supplies and equipment on them to really help bolster the infrastructure in Nigeria.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned that Project C.U.R.E. has lots of opportunities for volunteer service and that you have tens of thousands around the country. If any of our listeners are interested in working with your organization, where are some of the areas where you need the most help, some of the different programs, and what would they be doing?

Kristin Robinson:

Because we do have such a lean staff, we really do need volunteers, and our volunteers are instrumental in what we do. We have a lot of opportunities for different types of volunteers. We have folks who can come and help us sort all of the items that come in. When we get things from the hospitals, that all has to be sorted and checked and then put into our inventory system. You don't necessarily have to have a medical background to do that. There's two different sorting processes. There's more of a general sorting process that anyone can do. And then we have more specialized sorting, and that's a great place for nurses and doctors or people with a medical background to work in those areas.

Kristin Robinson:

We also need drivers, people who can drive our trucks to the hospitals to pick up what they are donating to us. We have regular drivers who come once a week or once a month and do pickups for us. We also have warehouse workers. Those are people who can help us get shipments ready. So when we have a container that needs to be packed, they can help us stage all of the items that need to be packed and then help pack those containers.

Kristin Robinson:

So there's a variety of options for all different types of people. We even have people who can help us with administrative work. It doesn't have to be the physical warehouse work. There's a lot of different options for pretty much anyone.

Kelly Scanlon:

So there's a place for everybody. You're operating all of this out of the SubTropolis, if I remember correctly.

Kristin Robinson:

Yep, that is correct. We are located in the Hunt Midwest SubTropolis, which is a pretty cool, interesting place to work. We're 150 feet under the ground, and it is always a lovely 70 degrees here, no matter what it's doing outside. So yeah, it's pretty interesting. A lot of people find it pretty cool to come and volunteer with us because they may or may not have ever been out to visit the SubTropolis before.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. It's like a city in itself up there. Tell us what's the best place to go, the website, if you'd like to volunteer?

Kristin Robinson:

If you're interested in volunteering, you can go to projectcure.org. There's a place on there on how to get involved. You just click on volunteering. And then from there you can choose the Kansas City location, and a calendar will pop up with different times and days, and you just pick the one that works for you and sign up right there.

Kelly Scanlon:

Excellent. Sounds like it's very easy.

Kristin Robinson:

It is.

Kelly Scanlon:

Kristen, thank you so much for all of the work that you, your team, your team of volunteers are doing to help people around the world.

Kristin Robinson:

I appreciate it. And thank you so much for having me on today to share.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Kristin Robinson for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

Joe Close:

The founder of Project C.U.R.E., Colorado businessman, James Jackson, and the Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Eucharist who ran the Franciscan Mission Warehouse in Independence, Missouri are examples of the power we each have within us to create change. When they became aware of an acute need for medical supplies in hospitals and clinics around the world, they did not leave it to others to act. They rose to the challenge themselves. And when the two organizations joined forces, their ability to provide humanitarian assistance to people around the world grew.

Joe Close:

Project C.U.R.E. now touches the lives of patients, families, and children in more than 135 countries. Each of us has the power to make a difference every day in ways large and small. We simply need to seize the moment and act ourselves rather than leaving it to someone else.

Joe Close:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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