From the Santa Barbara News-Press: Local leaders honored with peace awards

Three local leaders in the nonprofit sector were recognized this week for making exceptional impacts on both a local and worldwide level in their pursuits for peace.

Barbara Tellefson, Thomas Tighe and David Krieger all received peace prizes during Thursday’s virtual Zoom awards ceremony hosted by the Santa Barbara United Nations Association.

This is the fourth year the chapter has handed out Santa Barbara UNA Peace Prize, with this year’s theme focusing on “Celebrating Santa Barbara Stars Changing the World.”


Barbara Tellefson received her peace award for advancing human rights and dignity. She serves as the Director of Operations at the Unity Shoppe, which provides support for low-income families in Santa Barbara.

The keynote speaker on Thursday was former United Nation Ambassador from Bangladesh, Anwarul K. Chowdhury.

“Peace is integral to human existence, in everything we do, in everything we say, and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace,” Mr. Chowdhury said.

“We need to focus on empowering the individual, so that each one of us becomes an agent of peace and non-violence. We just have to leave our own mark on this world, as peaceful, nonviolent individuals.”

Mr. Tighe was the first to receive his award, under the category of advancing capacity in the developing world, and was introduced by 2017 UNA Peace Prize winner, Rinaldo Brutoco.

Mr. Tighe runs Direct Relief, a humanitarian nonprofit that delivers emergency and medical resources to places in need.

Owners of a 155,000 square-foot warehouse in Goleta, Direct Relief estimates that it handles “3.9 million pounds of medical aid to 100 countries via 16,000 deliveries every year.”

It is now one of the five largest charities in the United States, according to Mr. Brutoco, and this year will deliver $1.8 billion in medicine distribution.

“It stands directly as a giant amongst international aid organizations, and even more critical for our purposes tonight, a giant in the distribution of critical medical supplies to the poorest of the poor right here in the U.S.A. It’s the only organization that’s allowed to distribute pharmaceuticals in all 50 states,” Mr. Brutoco said.

Mr. Tighe was honored by Mr. Brutoco’s kind words and said one of the things he is most proud of is the work Direct Relief has done to help people of color.

Thomas Tighe received his peace award for advancing capacity in the developing world. He is the CEO of Direct Relief, one of the five largest charities in the world, which delivers roughly 3.9 million pounds of emergency and medical relief to struggling places worldwide.

“What we have seen in the U.S. where Direct Relief works, it’s supporting community health centers that were created in 1965 in recognition of the fact that black Americans, and brown-skinned Americans had no access to meaningful health services in the United States. We’re still doing that 55 years later as the largest kind of philanthropic effort,” he said.

“It’s just really a privilege for me to be part of an organization that was doing it long before I arrived, and I hope will continue to do it as long as it’s needed long and after I’m gone.”

Mr. Tighe added that he considered declining the award, but decided to accept it so long as he could do so on behalf of his colleagues, volunteers and everyone at Direct Relief.

Ms. Tellefson received her award for advancing human rights and dignity. She was introduced by 2018 award winner Deepa Willingham.

Ms. Tellefson is the director of operations at The Unity Shoppe in Santa Barbara, which is dedicated to supporting thousands of low-income families.

“How can we possibly strive for peace among nations, if we treat our local neighbors in a way that doesn’t help alleviate their local poverty and the hopelessness that ensues?” Ms. Willingham said.

The Unity Shoppe serves around 20,000 people annually thanks to nearly 2,000 volunteers. It serves many different purposes for the low-income community, such as being a food and grocery distribution center, providing support for disasters, having a work volunteer program and more.

Since the pandemic, the Unity Shoppe has focused especially on getting groceries to people without cost and in a safe