A product similar to what powers top athletes is saving Haitian childrens' lives.
A Boca Raton urologist and the owners of a South Florida high-performance nutrition company teamed up on a nonprofit project to help malnourished youngsters in the impoverished Caribbean nation. Working with food scientists, they created HopeGel, a nutritional supplement that's easy to use and easy to store under the most difficult of conditions.
So far, they have raised $75,000 through the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation for the HopeGel Project. All of the money goes toward manufacturing and distributing HopeGel to a northern Haiti medical clinic. The project has no paid staff.
HopeGel began when Dan Schapiro and Nathan Feldman -- the founders of EB Performance in Boca, with clients including major college and pro sports teams – saw a newsletter article featuring Dr. Jeffrey Miller. The accompanying photo showed Miller, who does pro-bono surgeries at the CRUDEM Foundation's Hôpital Sacré Coeur, handing out peanut butter bars to emaciated children.
The EB partners already were exploring how "ready-to-eat therapeutic foods" could be used in poor countries. "So the light bulb went off," Feldman said. "When we saw the article, we thought: Can we use this gel technology in Haiti?"
HopeGel, which can be eaten straight out of a small disposable packet or injected through a feeding tube, doesn't need to be refrigerated, cooked or mixed with water. It packs a nutritional wallop, loaded with quickly absorbed vegetarian proteins, fats and amino acids, and with the caloric equivalent of cheeseburger.
But the real selling point: Kids prefer its orange creamsicle taste and texture to protein bars, said Miller. That's important, since the young patients usually must eat three packets daily until they return to a normal weight. The HopeGel Project has delivered about 50,000 packets since 2011.
"It's hard to believe that just a two-hour flight away, there are children starving. Aid is not getting to the people and the poverty is indescribable," said Miller. He has seen the crisis escalate since the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
Malnutrition is a main cause of death among youngsters under age 5 in Haiti, a country of 8.4 million people where almost half are children. Miller said toddlers around age 1 but weighing less than 10 pounds, the birth weight of some American babies, have come into the hospital.
The Goldstein Group, New York City branding consultants, also volunteered their services and designed new HopeGel packaging, which will be rolled out soon. Manufacturer Jump Brands LLC also is a HopeGel partner.
Both of Miller's daughters, high school senior Alison and college freshman Amanda, have worked on the project and traveled to Haiti. "It really grounds you," Miller said. "When you return, it makes you feel grateful for what you have."
For more information about HopeGel or to donate to the project: hopegel.com.
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