After any natural disaster, nutrition is critical. The infrastructure is often so collapsed, you can't get fresh food to people who need it most. But you can drop in vitamins. A bottle of vitamins is a tremendously effective delivery system for basic nutrition.
I got the idea for Vitamin Angels after the Northridge [California] earthquake in 1994— and we continue to help in all sorts of natural disasters. But our long-term vision is to start programs that really will have an impact on malnutrition around the world.
Our vitamin A program, for example, combats blindness. With vitamin A deficiency, you start to get dry spots in the eyes, then diminished vision. Finally, scarring changes the shape of the eyeball. Up until this point, you can stop or reverse this condition. We combat this problem with a high-dose vitamin A capsule twice a year. The total cost is about 25 cents per child per year. Kids are most vulnerable in their first five years. So for $1, you literally can prevent childhood blindness.
The results I've seen in the field are just short of miraculous. When nutrition is so compromised, it's like a sponge that's been wrung dry. When you add vitamins, the sponge pops up again—doctors see eye problems start to clear up within a few days. It really validates how important supplements are—something that can be hard to see in this country, where our food supply has been so fortified.
They say that giving is a gift. What I've seen in my own life is that it really is the greatest gift to see these kids and realize what a difference the programs are making in their lives. These people are just like us. They have the same joy, the same pain; they want their kids to be healthy. It's just circumstances that have put them in this position, where they're struggling day to day. When you start to be a part of the solution, the whole world gets to be a better place.
—Howard B. Schiffer, president, Vitamin Angel Alliance (www.vitaminangel.org)