Vitamin maker NBTY enriches LI communities through charity

Kids practice yoga with camp counselor Amanda Mattera Kids practice yoga with camp counselor Amanda Mattera on matts donated by NBTY's charitable arm, Helping Hands, to the Boys and Girls Club of America at a club in Port Jefferson Station on Monday, May 19, 2014. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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It started in the early 1970s as Nature's Bounty, a family business in a small building in Plainview. Today it is NBTY, a $3 billion global leader in the vitamin and nutritional supplement industry whose staff -- from the cubicles to the corner offices -- believes in sharing the wealth.

Last year more than 30 charitable organizations, including many groups on Long Island, received $825,000 through NBTY Helping Hands, the Ronkonkoma-based company's charitable arm. In addition, NBTY donated $6 million in products, among them high-quality vitamins, minerals, protein bars, protein powders, protein shakes and other items it manufactures and distributes through retail partners, many of which carry NBTY brands sold under the names Osteo Bi-Flex, Solgar and Ester-C.

"As one of the leading companies on Long Island, I think it is critical we're giving back to the communities that support us," said Jeff Nagel, NBTY's chief executive.

NBTY has manufacturing operations all over the world that make the company's vitamins, minerals and nutrition supplements in the form of capsules, tablets and soft gels. It also manufactures products for other private-label organizations. On Long Island, its facilities are in Bohemia, Holbrook, Ronkonkoma, Bayport and Amityville. The Amityville plant specializes in protein bars.

With a mission to foster the health, wellness and well-being of Long Islanders, NBTY donates to nonprofit organizations that serve the hungry, the homeless, veterans, people displaced by disasters, the disabled and others in need.

"One [contribution] we're particularly proud of was picking up sponsorship of The Games for the Physically Challenged at Mitchel Field when the state stopped funding it three years ago," said Michael Oliveri, vice president of procurement at NBTY and chairman of Helping Hands.

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Beyond New York, Helping Hands assists organizations that promote wellness elsewhere in the United States and worldwide.

NBTY's more than 13,500 global employees, also known as associates, perform their jobs during business hours, then switch gears on their personal time to give to the causes the company supports.

Melissa Entwistle, who manages NBTY's product donation program, said NBTY has donated $1.8 million in products so far this year.

"I enjoy the culture: share the wealth," she said. "There is so much positive feedback from people who work here; not one negative comment . . . It's fantastic that we can touch so many families. It's great to bring the same passion you have at home to work."

Nagel, who joined NBTY four years ago, is also a big fan of the corporate philosophy.

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"I want to be part of a company that feels good about the products it makes and is making a contribution to people all over the world," he said. "It ends up being part of the corporate culture. It's as good for the people who work for us as it is for the people who are helped, and that's great. It makes a difference."

It does for the New York Blood Center, which added a $300,000 five-bed, custom bus to its two-bus fleet, thanks to Helping Hands.

The extra bus allowed the Blood Center -- which has donor centers in Bohemia, Lake Success, Melville and Rockville Centre, as well as Manhattan, the Hudson Valley and New Jersey -- to expand its daily 50 Islandwide blood drives that collect 2,000 units of lifesaving blood products for hospital patients.

"They recognized we had a need," said Harvey Schaffler, executive director of donor marketing for the Blood Center. "Everything we would do in a normal blood drive can be replicated on the bus on a smaller scale."

College-bound and trade school students who organize successful blood drives may qualify for annual scholarships ranging from $250 to $500 that are underwritten by a $75,000 grant from Helping Hands.

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"They have a very, very strong commitment to working with charities that can deliver what they say they're going to do," said Paule Pachter, executive director of Long Island Cares/The Harry Chapin Food Bank, the Hauppauge-based nonprofit that feeds Long Island's hungry and is another Helping Hands recipient.

"They're just wonderful to work with, and they set an example for other companies on Long Island."

 

More than food donations

Funding for Helping Hands is raised through an annual Golf Classic, which this year is June 2 at the Old Westbury Golf and Country Club. The event is in its eighth year and attracts more than 200 golfers, who are NBTY suppliers and business colleagues. A dinner follows the event, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars a year; the total from last year's classic was $825,000.

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Charities receiving donations must be nonprofits that dedicate 95 percent of the donations they receive.

For the past three years, NBTY Helping Hands has funded Long Island Cares' free annual Concert for Children's Hunger Awareness for students in first through fourth grade.

"They also funded our children's nutrition vehicle, which takes food to 900 children on weekends," Pachter said, adding that Long Island Cares last year selected NBTY as its corporate honoree.

That organization and the Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate on Long Island yearly receive thousands of backpacks filled with new school supplies for students. NBTY associates volunteer during their lunch hour for the two-day project.

Many Long Islanders affected by superstorm Sandy in October 2012 were able to replace small appliances and buy cleaning supplies with $1,000 grants, and got gift cards for clothing under a separate $100,000 grant. Long Island Cares got seed money to open an ongoing Emergency Response and Recovery program in Lindenhurst, and associates affected by the storm got help from their colleagues under an Adopt-an-Associate program.

Stephanie Lacasse, 32, a buyer at NBTY's Vitamin World plant in Bohemia, was adopted by her co-workers, who gave her sheets, pillows and other items and supplies after the storm flooded the Seaford house she shares with her parents with 5 feet of water. Some of them even donated their vacation time, totalling five days.

"It made me feel very appreciated and loved and cared for that the company's associates would do this for one of the associates in a time of need," Lacasse said.

Any need seems a call to action for NBTY.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society receives about $400,000 in funds and products annually through Pure Protein, one of NBTY's brands, to aid its fundraising and research, said Patrick Cornacchiulo, vice president of marketing for Active Nutrition, an NBTY division.

A May 10 walkathon in Eisenhower Park in East Meadow for Big Brothers Big Sisters that Helping Hands sponsored raised nearly $50,000, said Mark Cox, the organization's chief executive. Oliveri walked with his Little Brother, Juan Carlos, at the event.

A $30,000 scholarship fund from Helping Hands benefits college-bound youths and underwrites Big Brothers Big Sisters' annual summer picnics.

"In addition to the monetary support, employees come out to be part of the picnic," Cox said. "They're one of our best supporters, no question."

 

Helping beyond Long Island

NBTY extends its benevolence beyond Long Island to other states and overseas. Food pantries across the country receive surplus nutrition bars made for athletes and other active people. Since last year, 50,000 pounds of nutrition bars have been donated through the international hunger relief group Feed the Children, Cornacchiulo said.

People in 170 countries, including Liberia, Haiti, El Salvador, New Guinea and Romania, share in NBTY's generosity, according to Steve Reinstra, managing director of Strategic Partnership, an international aid organization based in Michigan. Over the past 18 months, his group received $15 million in vitamins, fish oil, probiotics, protein bars, kits for cancer patients and other products to distribute to 2,400 other nonprofit groups.

"We cannot do what we do without companies like these," Reinstra said.

Through Vitamin World, an NBTY retail division, special blends of lifesaving vitamins for pregnant mothers, children under 5 years old and other at-risk populations in impoverished areas of the United States and the world are donated to Vitamin Angels, a nonprofit organization based in California. In 2013, Vitamin Angels received $300,000 in products that were distributed in 23 countries and 18 states.

Cashiers and other staff at Vitamin World sold shopping bags in the division's 400 stores last year and raised $782,000 for Vitamin Angels.

Vicki McGuire, senior vice president of operations for Vitamin World, said volunteering through the company "is an opportunity for me to give back in a bigger way than with many retail organizations. You don't have to be president of the United States to help the world. All of us can help the world a little bit."

For its philanthropy, NBTY received a 2013 Silver Award from the Best in Biz business awards program as one of the most socially responsible companies. NBTY is one of five finalists in the American Business Awards for Corporate Social Responsibility program, whose winner will be chosen June 13.

"We're not giving small donations to many different charities," Oliveri said. "We concentrate on where we can make the most impact. We're giving large donations to charities that can make a difference, and we support charities and events that take place all year; the positive impact on the community is constant."

 

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Long Islanders can help NBTY's charitable arm, Helping Hands, in its efforts to assist communities here and around the world by making cash donations. Checks may be made payable to NBTY Helping Hands and sent to:

2100 Smithtown Ave.,
Ronkonkoma, NY 11779
Attn: Marialice Dunphy

To contact NBTY, email NBTYHelpinghands@nbty.com or visit the company online at nbtyhelpinghands.com.

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YOU MIGHT CONSIDER . . .

Bethpage Federal Credit Union, the largest on Long Island and one of the largest in the nation, conducts its charitable outreach through Heart of Bethpage, a nonprofit established in 2002 with a focus on housing, education, hunger relief, pediatric health care, and economic and community development. Heart of Bethpage also sponsors fundraising walks and runs, offers college scholarships and recently contributed $100,000 to United Way of Long Island's Military Assistance Project. Contact: Robert Suarez, rsuarez@bethpagefcu.com.

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Over the past decade, hundreds of at-risk teenagers have found a haven with the New York Youth Club, a nonprofit based in Hauppauge that motivates youth to learn job and leadership skills and other fundamentals as alternatives to gangs and crime. The club is funded through an anonymous founder, but it accepts contributions for scholarships; help from math and English tutors; and furniture and appliances. Contact: Nathan Jackson, 631-524-5222.

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For more volunteer information and opportunities, contact the Long Island Volunteer Center at 516-564-5482; longislandvolunteercenter.org.

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