Catherine Haala once worked as an event planner in Connecticut, organizing fabulous charity fundraisers and seaside clambakes. Then in 1998, she heard the founder of the International Medical Equipment Collaborative (IMEC) speak at an event about his quest to save usable medical equipment from ending up in landfills.

Inspired, Haala, 56, raised money from friends and philanthropists to launch The World Is Our Neighborhood (TWION) to transport the supplies—usually functional hospital equipment that's been replaced by newer technologies—that groups like IMEC collect for needy communities. "I don't mind sleeping on a hospital room floor, or a bus," Haala says. Today she heads to places like Mali, Peru, and Guatemala to furnish poverty-stricken areas with equipment for everything from burn centers to malaria wards. "Getting the paperwork through customs is like childbirth—when you succeed, all the agony fades to joy," she says. In 2009 in Peru, an entire town lined the streets to welcome supplies for a maternity and dental center.

Haala now runs TWION out of her New York apartment; she caters and does occasional modeling to pay the bills, so all donations directly support her missions. "I firmly believe there's already enough in the world," she says. "I'm just taking it to where it's needed."

More on Local Heros:


Next Story