Vitamin Angels provide disaster relief

“We never get to choose when a natural disaster will strike. But we always get to choose how we will respond,” said Howard Schiffer, president of Vitamin Angel Alliance, a Santa Barbara-based non-profit dedicated to providing basic nutrition and fighting diseases caused by malnutrition around the world.

Immediately upon hearing the news of last month’s Tsunamis in Southeast Asia, Vitamin Angel issued a call for vitamin donations to help stave off starvation and lessen the likelihood of epidemics and disease.

“In a disaster situation, the infrastructure is usually in shambles. It’s going to be a while before they’re getting any food, clean water and that kind of thing. … The population’s really at risk for opportunistic infections,” Schiffer said.

“People don’t realize is that after a disaster is over, the secondary effect with disease and epidemics spreading could compound the tragedy to a much, much greater level, and that if you can get in there with medicine, and basic nutrients, you could save a part of the population to where they’ll survive until you can get in the other things and get organized.”

It’s to that end that Vitamin Angel is doing what it’s been doing since the 1994 Northridge earthquake, working to help bring emergency nutritional supplies to people who need them most.

Schiffer said people who want to help with the relief effort have responded in droves.

“There are a lot of things that divide us — the religious stuff, political stuff, ideology — and there are some things that bring us together … compassion and caring and trying to help.”

In 2003, Vitamin Angel donated 16.2 million supplements worldwide to people in need, and Schiffer estimates the 2004 total to be about 20 million vitamin supplements.

Citing a study by the World Health Organization, “the number one health risk factor, above cancer, above heart disease, above AIDS, the number one health risk in the world is lack of food,” he said. “The people that we’re working with literally are starving to death.”

And many of the diseases they’re suffering from are inexpensively prevented.

For example, it costs a nickel a year to provide supplements to prevent vitamin A deficiency childhood blindness. In response to this epidemic, Vitamin Angel has partnered with Johnson & Johnson to pilot a program that will reach six million children, lactating mothers and infants in India.

“The single most important intervention we can make in the world today is supply multiple vitamins,” said Schiffer, who began his journey in the vitamin supplement business before a call for help from Direct Relief International set him on his current course.

DRI remains a strong alliance. Vitamin Angel also works with other relief organizations all over the world.

“We believe that every person is entitled to basic nutrition, we believe that malnutrition linked diseases are preventable and we believe that education in addition to supplementation is the key to long-term health,” Schiffer said.

For more information visit or call 565.9919.

Other local Tsunami relief efforts

* Direct Relief International is accepting monetary donations. Go online to or call 964.4767.Checks should have “Tsunami Relief” specified and can be mailed to 27 S. La Patera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93117.

* Contact the American Red Cross at 800.435.7669, mail checks to 2705 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105 or visit Mid-State Bank branches are also taking Red Cross donations.

* Sri Lanka Medical Relief is selling T-shirts bearing the flags of all 12 countries hit by the tsunamis and a map of Sri Lanka. Call 568.0770 to order a $15 t-shirt, with proceeds going to Tsunami relief.

* Angels Wings Foundation International plans to build 100 homes and an orphanage in Thailand. Send donations to 1482 East Valley Road, Suite 428, Montecito, CA 93108 or email

* New Directions Foundation is taking donations, care of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 299, Santa Barbara, CA 93102.

* The nonprofit VeAhavta has asked for donations. To help, call 542.9357 or visit

Originally published in South Coast Beacon