Philanthropist Kenneth E. Behring announced today that he has committed to contribute $15 million toward a new international effort of purchasing and delivering one million wheelchairs in the next five years.

Behring said the effort would be organized under the auspices of Wheelchair Foundation, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to providing wheelchairs to men, women and children around the world who cannot afford one. He said that an estimated 20 million people who need wheelchairs don’t have one.

“There are more than 20 million people in the world who can’t use their legs,” Behring said. “For them, just getting from one side of a room to another is a monumental struggle. A wheelchair will give them new independence, dignity and hope.”

“A million wheelchairs is just a start. We want to get a chair to every person who needs one,” he added. “I will be going into the board rooms, the foundation offices and the homes of wealthy individuals and asking for their help.” Behring’s goal is to raise $150 million over the next five years to bring one million wheelchairs to people in need around the world.

The new foundation, which has already established partnerships with such service organizations as the American Red Cross, Hope Worldwide, Operation USA, Hope Haven and the Mobility Project, seeks to bring independence and dignity to people who have been deprived of mobility by war, disease, accident, natural disaster or old age.

Later this month, the Salvation Army, another partner, will deliver 1,000 Foundation wheelchairs to centers in New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago for distribution to Americans in need in and around those cities.

The effort has already attracted significant international support. The Foundation’s International Board of Advisors, co-chaired by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, includes former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing and the First Lady of Guatemala Evelyn de Portillo.

Behring, a successful businessman turned philanthropist and former owner of the Seattle Seahawks football team, has personally delivered hundreds of wheelchairs this year to Romania, Vietnam, the Crow Indian Nation in Montana, Guatemala and Botswana leading up to the official launch of the Foundation.

“The gift of a wheelchair is an act of pure humanity that provides a clear and instant benefit,” said Rep. Steve Largent (R-OK). “Without complicated programs or politics, Wheelchair Foundation is operating on a simple premise ? every person in need of a wheelchair deserves one.”

Rep. Largent, a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks football team when Behring was the team owner, co-hosted the Foundation’s launch reception along with Senators Bill Frist (R-TN) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA).

“Ken Behring saw suffering and is trying to help,” said Senator Frist. “I applaud Wheelchair Foundations’s laser-like focus on one very specific and absolutely basic need ? mobility.”

For more information about Wheelchair Foundation, visit www.wheelchairfoundation.org.