Vitamin Angels: Nonprofit helps at-risk mothers deliver well-nourished newborns

Phillip Palmer Image
Friday, May 13, 2022
Vitamin Angels help at-risk mothers deliver well-nourished newborns
For pregnant women, giving birth to a healthy baby could depend on something as simple as vitamins -- but they aren't always easy to get.

Getting early and regular prenatal care improves the chances of a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy baby. But how is that accomplished for expectant women facing food insecurity or limited access to prenatal vitamins and minerals?

Howard Schiffer, the founder of Vitamin Angels explained what he's trying to do: "We deal with the unmet need, with the underserved. We say we're reaching the unreachable."

Vitamin Angels is a global public-health nonprofit focused on getting new mothers, at-risk of malnutrition, the essential vitamins and health services they need to deliver and raise healthy newborns and toddlers.

Ciraya Gonzalez is an expectant mother who is benefiting from helped provided by Vitamin Angels.

"I think it's very important, just knowing that you're not only taking care of yourself but your baby," Gonzalez said, "and just knowing that you're doing everything you can to further their care."

Maria Rivera agrees: "It helps the first-time mommies. And also if you're planning to have a second or third baby it also helps you to prepare your body, in order for when you become pregnant, you already have your nutrients inside you."

11 staffers at Missouri hospital are pregnant at the same time

Ten nurses and one doctor at Liberty Hospital in Liberty, Missouri, are pregnant at the same time.

Vitamin Angels works with local organizations across the United States like Via Care in East Los Angeles, and 65 countries around the world, to fight the threat of malnutrition at the very beginning of a child's developmental life, thus increasing the chances of good health for mother and child.

Providing the vitamins for free clearly has benefit, but being able to give them directly to the patient is also invaluable, explained Tanya Ornelas, a physician's assistant at Via Care.

"They're very surprised and they're very thankful when they come in to their initial visit and they go home with the actual bottle in their hand," Ornelas said. "They don't have to go to a pharmacy. They don't have to figure out who's going to take them, where the pharmacy's at, how're they going to get there."

Founded in 1994 as a result of lessons learned from the Northridge earthquake, Schiffer, who worked in the vitamin industry at the time, assumed humanitarian relief workers could get all the vitamins needed. He found that wasn't the case for nonprofits.

"What I found out in the follow-up to the earthquake, nobody had a really high-quality, consistent supply of vitamins," he said. "And I thought, well, I can do that. I know all the people, I can put that together."

Now, 28 years later, they are meeting the needs of children and families on the fringes who are not part of the primary healthcare system, but who have the same needs as everyone else.

"From Mobile, Alabama, to Mozambique to Mumbai, every mother says the exact same thing: 'I want my child to be healthy and I want them to be able to have a good life,'" Schiffer said. "So it gets pretty simple on that level."

"We have a proven solution that's been tested, that's been researched, that's been peer-reviewed," he continued. "I mean, this is science that we know can make a big difference and it is not expensive. To reach a pregnant woman, for her pregnancy, costs us about five dollars."