In a Nutshell: Recovering from natural disasters and crises can be difficult for any community. But the path to recovery can be even more arduous for underserved communities. CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) provides support and resources to marginalized communities when they most need it. Co-founded by actor Sean Penn and CEO Ann Lee following their relief efforts for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, CORE helps underserved communities abroad and in the U.S. as they recover from disasters and crises. Donors can support CORE’s humanitarian efforts and help the organization maximize its impact on underserved communities.
The National Institute of Health defines underserved groups as “populations that do not have adequate access to medical care.” Underserved communities may require outside assistance to obtain the services necessary to live healthy lives.
Natural disasters can wreak havoc on even the most affluent communities. But underserved populations can be disproportionately affected when disasters strike.
CORE is a disaster-response organization that started in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Actor and two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn is the co-founder of CORE along with CEO Ann Lee. In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Penn and Lee mobilized their networks and used their platforms to take immediate action to help Haitians recover.
Efforts in Haiti began with providing emergency relief services, which consisted of donating essential supplies to Haitians, helping to remove rubble from collapsed buildings and structures, and providing shelter to people who had lost their homes. Today, 13 years after the earthquake, the CORE team is still working to provide long-term assistance to Haitians.
“Partnering with the local community is at the core of our mission,” said Jaya Vadlamudi, CORE’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing. “We don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach. CORE works with local partners and community members to learn how we can best use our resources to serve them over time.”
Vadlamudi said choosing where to serve is an ongoing challenge for the organization. In deciding where to focus its efforts, CORE investigates where people need its services and which other organizations are already responding to that area or are in a better position to respond.
“Due to climate change, there are so many disasters these days,” Vadlamudi said. “What in the past could’ve been a once-per-decade type of disaster now happens far more often. We assess where we can really make an impact and provide the specific resources a community in crisis needs.”
A Commitment To Serve Communities Around the World
CORE focuses its efforts on the pockets of communities that aren’t getting adequate support during disasters and crises. Vadlamudi said when a disaster occurs, the organization always seeks to reach the people who are the most marginalized and vulnerable. Following that approach has led CORE to engage in supporting communities around the world.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CORE worked in the U.S. and internationally to provide testing and vaccines, including in India. Vadlamudi said soon after the organization started its efforts in India, it realized some Indian communities had elderly individuals and people with disabilities who couldn’t travel to the centers where CORE was providing testing services and vaccinations.
“If people couldn’t travel to reach us, we made it our mission to reach them where they lived,” Vadlamudi explained. “This way, everyone could easily access the services they needed.”
CORE has provided relief efforts in Ukraine since Russia attacked the country in early 2022. The organization’s work in the region has expanded into the neighboring countries of Poland and Romania, where some Ukrainian refugees have fled. CORE has supplied Ukranians with food, water, shelter, and livelihood support.
“Because of the extended length of the conflict, some families have been displaced for well over a year,” Vadlamudi said. “They don’t know when or if they’ll be able to return to their homes and communities. CORE is helping them integrate into where they are living now.”
Though CORE has a significant presence in international relief efforts, it also is involved in humanitarian aid within the U.S.
In 2023, CORE assisted those most affected by the wildfires in Maui. Vadlamudi said many residents of Maui were displaced from their homes without any belongings except the clothes they had on. CORE has provided these displaced individuals with cash and vouchers.
“During this transitional time, CORE’s financial support allows those affected by the Maui wildfires to make dignified choices regarding what they need for themselves and their families,” Vadlamudi said. “Instead of just giving them a food kit, we give them cash. This allows them to purchase other items they may need, such as clothing and diapers. It’s empowering for people to make those decisions themselves.”
Unrestricted Funding Allows CORE To Stay Nimble
CORE’s work is made possible through the generous donations of foundations and individual donors. Vadlamudi said that, although the organization receives some government funding at times, those funds aren’t enough to cover all the relief efforts needed in the world in any given year.
“There are so many disasters these days that there just isn’t enough government funding to go around,” Vadlamudi said. “We really need the financial support of individuals. Every dollar counts. CORE uses donated funds efficiently to maximize the impact on the communities we assist. And we ensure our footprint is minimal and our overhead costs are low.”
Vadlamudi said it can be difficult to persuade individuals to donate to causes that don’t receive heavy media coverage. That’s why CORE appreciates receiving unrestricted funding. Organizations can use unrestricted funds discretionarily.
“With unrestricted funding, donors trust the organization to use donated funds the best way it can to reach the people who need assistance the most,” Vadlamudi detailed. “Unrestricted funding enables CORE to stay flexible, which is vital to an emergency-response organization. Flexibility allows us to respond quickly when disasters strike without first engaging in fundraising efforts.”
CORE relies on community volunteers to supplement its emergency-response work. The organization often has volunteer opportunities for individuals living in the U.S. Vadlamudi said that, during the pandemic, CORE relied on volunteers to assist in vaccination events held at Los Angeles’s Dodger Stadium. CORE has also relied on volunteers for gun-violence response initiatives in Chicago and to assist in opioid mitigation efforts in North Carolina.
Vadlamudi said individuals interested in volunteering or donating to CORE should sign up to receive CORE’s newsletter. Interested parties can also follow the organization on social media to stay informed of opportunities to help around the world.
Local Volunteers Boost CORE’s Impact
CORE’s headquarters are in Los Angeles, but the organization also has offices in other countries, including in Haiti, Turkey, and Ukraine. CORE hires from within local communities. Vadlamudi said the organization’s hiring practices support the livelihoods of individuals in the communities it serves and enable CORE to draw from community members’ expertise.
Vadlamudi said CORE prioritizes transparency. The organization produces an annual report outlining which causes it has recently supported and how it uses its resources.
“We really appreciate donors’ generosity, and we want them to know how their donations are being used,” Vadlamudi said. “In Ukraine, CORE has provided resources to 700,000 people since the beginning of the conflict. We couldn’t have done that without our supporters. During the pandemic, we provided approximately 6 million vaccinations around the world. We take great pride in that, and it was made possible through the support we receive.”
Mother Nature can be unpredictable, but CORE does its best to help marginalized communities prepare for disasters. Vadlamudi said disaster mitigation is a key area of focus for CORE.
“We want to make sure that underserved communities have the resources they need to respond to disasters and crises themselves,” Vadlamudi said. “Having emergency plans and procedures in place can lessen the impact of disasters. Disaster mitigation is an area CORE is heavily focused on, and we can only see that growing given the frequency of climate emergencies happening around the world.”