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Operation Blessing president Bill Horan in front of maps and diagrams of their disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Keeping the Supply Chain of Relief Running Smoothly

Operation Blessing president Bill Horan in front of maps and diagrams of their disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

I recently visited our Hurricane Maria relief headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We are set up in a cavernous sports center that’s part of San Juan’s coliseum complex and serves as our warehouse, distribution hub, and operations center. The mayor of San Juan was impressed by our work in the weeks following Hurricane Maria and wanted us to have a prime base of operations so we could better play a key role in helping storm-stricken communities all over the island.

Here, we have a large map of Puerto Rico where we use colored pins and notes to mark the communities we have helped, as well as our ongoing projects. Over the past several months, the map has become populated with a forest of colored thumbtacks and tags, each indicating a community where we have distributed generators, water filters, reverse osmosis or desalination water treatment systems, and solar lights. It also shows areas where we sponsor construction and livelihood revival projects.

Solar lights for hurricane victims with no power in Puerto Rico.

Our most impactful project has been participating in a coalition called Operation Agua that is focused on supplying water filtration equipment to all the public schools on the island as well as to communities still struggling with little or no safe drinking water. Our coalition partners are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), The Hispanic Federation, Puerto Rico’s union of 25,000 local school teachers (AMPR), the Mariners Union, and Tote Maritime.

A school child in Puerto Rico drinking safe water from a Kohler Clarity filter.

The AFT is the prime catalyst in securing more than $1.7 million in funds; the Hispanic Federation is a major advocate and helps with distribution; AMPR diligently placed multiple filters in all of the 1,100+ schools; and Tote has provided the ocean shipment for free. OBI looks after overall project management, logistics control, warehousing, and training for Operation Agua in addition to distributing filters and solar lights to communities where we are working.

Kohler Water Filters from Operation Agua being distributed in Puerto Rico.

The filters are moved from the factory in Arkansas by truck or rail to Jacksonville, Fla., and handed over to Tote for ocean transport. Upon arrival in Puerto Rico, we arrange transport to our warehouse and store them until they are distributed. We have imported twenty 40-foot sea containers including over 44,000 Kohler Clarity filters as well as several other sea shipments and seven air shipments of life-saving water purification equipment, solar lights, roofing supplies, and hundreds of tons of relief supplies.

A replacement filter for the Kohler Clarity system.

I want to recognize two “unsung hero” OBI staff members who work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep our supply chain running smoothly. Their names are Alex Rogers and Paulo Traverso. Alex is our resident logistics guru based at our Virginia headquarters. He directs all of our international shipping and masterminded the logistics and shipping of every item used in our relief efforts in Puerto Rico. The man on the other end of the shipping pipeline is Paulo Traverso. Paulo is a retired logistics expert from Chile who spent his career running a supply chain importing cereal, milk, and coffee for a major international company. Paulo designed software programs that track every single item that arrives in our Puerto Rico warehouse and records who gets it and where it goes. Between Alex on one end and Paulo on the other our supply chain runs like a well-oiled machine.

OBI VP David Darg delivering disaster relief supplies in Puerto Rico.

Logistics, supply chain management, and inventory control are not something we often talk about with donors, but without people like Alex and Paulo masterfully handling countless decisions and details, we could not operate efficiently or effectively.

There are other faces behind the scenes that keep OBI going — and one of them is the face you see in the mirror every day. None of this could happen without God’s grace and your faithful support. Thank you for helping us reach the people of Puerto Rico.

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