COLUMBIA — Children can begin the school year on a healthy note by taking advantage of a new program at D&H Drugstores that offers free multivitamins to kids between the ages of 4 and 12.
The owner of the drugstore, Triston Brownfield, said one reason for the program is to get vitamins to children who wouldn't otherwise receive them. He has informed community groups such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Voluntary Action Committee about the program and is working with the Hallsville School District to bring vitamins to the children at its intermediate school.
D&H, which has stores on Broadway and Paris Road, is financing the vitamin giveaway and negotiated a quantity discount with its distributor, Mason Vitamins.
In order for their children to participate, parents must fill out a form supplying the name and age of each child they enroll. Parents then receive a 30-day supply of the multivitamins for each child and can come back each month for refills.
Brownfield, who is also a licensed pharmacist, said he is excited about the far-reaching impact the program could have and the buzz it has generated.
“At the beginning of the school year, people are conscious of things like this,” he said. “Everyone I’ve talked to has been very excited.”
Brownfield began the program in response to what he perceives as a trend toward poorer nutrition and decreased activity in children. He also believes the vitamins will help boost children’s health before the onset of flu season.
“It’s kind of counterproductive to our business, but we want people to be healthy and to live better,” Brownfield said.
While he acknowledged that children would be better off paying more attention to the vitamins in the food that they eat, Brownfield believes multivitamins are key to health. He’s also concerned about children's intake of vitamin D, which is absorbed from sunlight. With the skin cancer awareness and high SPF sunblock, he said, children may not be getting the requisite 400 units of vitamin D each day.
“There’s been some information from the American Pediatric Association over the past couple of years that vitamin D deficiency is growing, especially in some of the lower socio-economic classes,” Brownfield said.
Low-income children are usually the ones who are most in need of multivitamins, and Brownfield knows that it is often difficult to provide those children with them.
“A lot of people who probably can’t afford vitamins are going to get them,” Brownfield said.
Cindy Mustard, executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, is helping get the word out to families she works with.
“We see a lot of families with children of this age through our office for other services,” Mustard said. “We’re encouraging the parents to please sign up.”
Mustard has been handing out fliers and sign-up forms to families who visit the center and encouraging them to visit D&H to enroll. She hopes that families who would have been otherwise unaware of the program can benefit.
“This group really needs to be tuned in,” she said. “We want to make sure everybody knows about it.”
In addition to partnering with community groups, Brownfield is working to publicize the program in the Hallsville School District. Although the drugstore and Hallsville Intermediate have not come to full agreement about the logistics of their partnership, they are in the process of organizing the best way to distribute the vitamins.
“I thought it would be a good idea because it’s free and also because it will give vitamins to children who probably wouldn’t (otherwise) get them,” Sara Crane, the school nurse at Hallsville Intermediate School, said.
So far, about 100 families in the Hallsville district have picked up forms, Crane said. Since the program is only in its first week, both she and Brownfield hope that more children will benefit in the coming weeks.
“In my heart, I really would hope that some kids who were unable to get vitamins would have the opportunity to get them,” Brownfield said. “That may present some challenges, but we’re looking to see what types of solutions we can find.”