Best Of Vitamin Angels InterviewNovember 26, 2010 Written by JP [Font too small?]
A few weeks ago, a reader named Vicky left me a comment that has stuck with me ever since. She wondered if there was a way for me to help poor people who don’t have Internet access or the resources necessary to implement much of the information I present on this site. Specifically, the post she was referring had to do with the Novel H1N1 Swine Flu virus. As I typed my response, I realized that even something as basic as a multivitamin was out reach for some of the most vulnerable populations in the world. It is at that point that I remembered the name of a charity that I have seen in natural health magazines and trade journals. The two words that came back to me were: Vitamin Angels.
I try not to infuse my daily columns with too many of my own philosophical and political views. My goal is to share practical health information that will alienate as few readers as possible. However, I do maintain one rather vocal core belief. Sharing knowledge with others can nourish the soul, while improving the collective health of society at large. From my perspective, it’s quite simple: the more people who attain vibrant health, the fewer people who will be sick and likely to spread disease.
Right now there is a debate raging concerning health care reform in the United States. No matter how that turns out, there will always be a necessary role for proactive individuals and private, non-profit organizations in promoting improved health among the needy. This is of particular importance in the 21st century world where communicable diseases can no longer be contained within borders. This prompted me to learn more about Vitamin Angels and their approach to making the world a more humane and safer place for us all.
The following interview was conducted with Howard B. Schiffer, the president and founder of Vitamin Angels. Over the last three years alone, his organization has distributed over 500,000,000 vitamin and mineral supplements to malnourished women and children in 40 countries throughout the world.
JP – What was your professional life prior to joining Vitamin Angels and what led you to change your career path?
Howard – I started my career as a midwife, doing childbirth education and work with prenatal nutrition. This led me to the natural product’s industry. I started a number of companies, had a fair amount of success and quite honestly, after 14 years I got bored. I kept thinking, I have all of these connections, I should be able to use them to do something positive for the world. At that time, I had no idea that nutrition was a foundation strategy for global health. At the time I just thought it was a ‘good idea.’
JP – Can you briefly summarize Vitamin Angels’ short term and long term goals?
Howard – Vitamin Angels is committed to reaching the children no one else is reaching and by providing essential nutrients, giving them a chance at a healthy life. This year our goal is to reach 10 million children, next year our goal is to reach 15 million children. Eventually we want to eliminate instances of specific vitamin deficiency diseases. We would like to begin reaching women before they even conceive, so that the day their children are born, they have a chance to reach their full intellectual and physical potential.
JP – What are a few of your proudest achievements thus far as the head of this organization?
Howard – When we go into these, sometimes unstable, countries and I tell the people that we want the same thing for their children that we want for our own children – that they can be healthy and get to fulfill their dreams – I see the walls come down. People swarm us to shake our hands, tell us how thankful they are that we showed up for their children, and then hand us their children to hold – what could be better than that?!
I also love the group of people we get to work with; everyone from our staff, to the donors, implementation partners and of course the children. That we are able to reach people at a heart level is a real joy. I also think it is wonderful that we have brought three of the people on our management team out of retirement to help make a difference in these children’s lives.
JP – Please explain the role that the natural health industry plays in helping Vitamin Angels to achieve its objectives?
Howard – The natural product’s industry is our biggest base of support. They are the ‘true believers’ who I went to originally and who immediately understood what I was trying to achieve – to make this world a healthier place – and have been with us ever since. A great example of the industry’s support is this year’s ‘Unconventional Angels’ coupon book. Not only do we have over 1,000 stores signed up, and scores of manufacturers but we also have The Organic Center and The Organic Trade Association as partners. All of these companies and people have come together for one reason – because we all believe these children are worth it and deserve a chance at a full and healthy life.
JP – Apart from the humanitarian aspect of your work, do you believe there are additional health and societal benefits involved? For instance, is it reasonable to assume that improving general health and immune status in those who suffer from malnutrition may help reduce the risk of disease spreading worldwide?
Howard – It is much bigger than just saving lives. In every study that has been done, whenever childhood malnutrition declines, you see a corresponding decline in population rates. When women know that they don’t have to have 10 babies to have 5 survive, population and family size decreases. When this happens, nutrition levels improve and income levels increase. Once children have essential nutrients, then they can begin to take better advantage of education opportunities. All of these factors result in people being able to pull themselves out of poverty. Providing essential nutrients is the first step towards making the world a healthier place.
JP – Do you feel as though your philanthropic efforts have any relationship to the current health care debate? If so, please explain your views on this matter.
Howard – If Vitamin Angels was going to write a constitution for the world, our first sentence would be; every child has a right to essential nutrients. Without taking sides on the current debates, our belief is that every person should have access to health care.
I’d like to point out a few startling statistics that I learned about on the Vitamin Angels site. A single (high-dose) vitamin A capsule every six months can virtually eradicate vitamin A deficiency and cut the mortality rate of young (malnourished) children by over 20%. According to a recent Unicef document (the Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency – A Global Report), the cost for that life saving capsule can be as low as $.02 per pill. Companies like Now Foods have donated 4,000,000 vitamin A supplements to the cause. Other natural health manufacturers such as ProCaps Laboratories and Rainbow Light have recently contributed 7,000,000 prenatal multivitamins for distribution to needy women both in the US and abroad. I applaud these and the other companies and individuals who are making a difference through their work with Vitamin Angels. (1,2,3,4,5)
I want to thank Howard B. Schiffer and Kim Saam for generously sharing their precious time with me. I encourage all my readers to consider becoming involved with this fine organization. By involvement, I don’t necessarily mean only financial contributions. There are other ways that you can show your support: a) purchase products by companies that donate funds and/or supplements to Vitamin Angels and b) add a link to the Vitamin Angels home page on your personal blogs and web sites. Spreading the word and supporting good corporate deeds are powerful tools we can all employ. For more information and other ways to make a difference, please visit www.vitaminangels.com.
Update: November 2010 – One of the best ways of deciding whether a charitable organization is worth investing in is to look up its status on Charity Navigator. A few weeks ago, Vitamin Angels was included on the prestigious list of “Ten Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions”. The Charity Navigator press release states that, “more than 95% of their total revenue comes from private contributions, which makes the efficiency of their fundraising operations all the more impressive”. Howard Schiffer had this to say about this recent development, “Vitamin Angels is honored to receive this recognition. Five years ago we were reaching two million children a year. This year Vitamin Angels is reaching over 22 million children and we are in position to reach 30 million children in 2011”. This is good news indeed. (6,7)
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Tags: Charity, Nutrition, Vitamins
Posted in Children's Health, Interviews, Women's Health