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Madison Heights

May 21, 2014

MA Foundation fights food insecurity, lack of nutrition

June 16 fundraiser will help provide healthy food kits to needy

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Ben Rathbun, left, pastor of Gospel Life Church in Madison Heights and executive vice president of the MA Foundation through GNC, stands with Mohammad Abdrabboh, owner of five GNC locations. Together, the two men aim to feed healthy foods to those in need.

MADISON HEIGHTS — When it comes to poverty, don’t expect Mohammad Abdrabboh to sugarcoat anything.

“Poverty is something that, if he were a man, I would kill him,” said Abdrabboh, owner of five GNC locations, the world’s largest retailer of vitamins and supplements. “Poverty and hunger really bother me because I have children of my own. That’s what has driven me to focus on the career I have, because I don’t want that for my family, and I’m doing all I can to protect us from it.”

Abdrabboh has seen poverty firsthand. He has worked in Detroit soup kitchens and walked the streets handing out bags of toiletry items to those in need. But it was a trip to Fiji — a blip on the blue sprawl of the Pacific, hours from Hawaii and Australia — where the plight of the poor really hit home.

He went to town to pick up food and supplies for the struggling families there, as well as toys for the children, and handed out the items after a church service. But first, he watched them worship.

“I saw something I will never forget,” Abdrabboh said. “There were these six kids — I have six kids myself — and there was a girl sitting next to her sister. She told her to move her legs so she would sit properly. And there was this boy — he pushed his brother and told him to chill out. That’s when I really saw these are real people. That really affected me. And when I gave the kids toys, they didn’t say, ‘Why can’t I have this,’ or ‘Why can’t I have that.’ They were just happy to have something, when human nature normally says, ‘I want more — give me, give me, give me.’”

This trip was five months ago, and it got Abdrabboh thinking.

“After Fiji, I realized I had to graduate from where I was and do (charitable work) on a larger scale, helping more people,” he said. “When I came back, I wanted to share the gift of giving with my kids. During the snowstorm, I took them out to see what poverty is and what giving is. When you see somebody who is hungry, you can see it in their eyes and see it in their face. It doesn’t matter what you give them; they don’t have the energy to ask for more.”

To help the hungry, Abdrabboh has formed a nonprofit charity, backed by GNC, called the MA Foundation, which operates through the website HealthyFood Bank.org.

Ben Rathbun — pastor of Gospel Life Church in Madison Heights and co-founder of the Church at Madison Heights, a citywide coalition — has been selected as the executive vice president of the MA Foundation.

“One in four children in Detroit is food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” Rathbun said. “But here’s the irony: One in three children in Detroit is overweight or obese. And two out of three adults are overweight or obese. This is because they get their food from food banks, and many food banks use leftover foods from grocery stores  —  cheaper foods that have high amounts of preservatives to last longer on the shelf, and that are full of high-fructose corn syrup, which the body doesn’t know how to process.

“It’s not healthy for those in need, and it’s not solving the long-term issue of their health,” Rathbun continued. “Obesity costs the state of Michigan $3.2 billion a year in health costs. And the irony is (the needy) are still hungry, since the food they’re eating is not nutritious or filling. We want to move these people from survival mode to actual healthy living, by giving them access to healthy foods.”

One way the MA Foundation will accomplish this is through education, and another way is through the provision of healthy food kits. They’ve already provided 8,600 meals to people in need. The kits contain a month’s supply of healthy food. They don’t cover every meal, but they do provide daily vitamins and minerals from GNC, healthy protein for shakes, oatmeal and brown rice, and a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables procured from grocery stores, among other items low in preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup.

“So far, we have been going through the elementary schools, since we want to focus on the children,” Rathbun said. “We’ve been asking principals to give us families who qualify for their food assistance programs, so we can step in and supplement what they receive. They’ve even allowed us to go directly to their homes. We’ve been able to meet many families this way.”

The long-term goal of the MA Foundation is to raise enough money to buy a warehouse in Detroit, which they can then use for food assembly and distribution. They also want to purchase land in a blight-torn area of Detroit and get it zoned for urban farming so that the residents can raise healthy vegetables in the area.

Where food kits are concerned, they aim to reach 100,000 families this year.

“This is an aggressive goal,” Rathbun said.

One fundraiser for the MA Foundation will also double as an education opportunity. The event is called The Healthy Expo 10 and will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, June 16, at Gospel Life Church, 1042 E. 12 Mile. The fundraiser costs $20 per person, and every penny goes to the cause.

In return, guests receive $50 worth of GNC products, and they will get to listen to five guest speakers in the church auditorium. Each speaker is an expert in the health industry and will speak on their field of expertise for 15 minutes.

Brendt Louzen, a certified personal trainer, will discuss “10 Easy Exercises” anyone can do at home, with potentially life-saving benefits.

Abdrabboh will discuss “10 Vital Vitamins,” covering the essential nutrients that the body needs for good health.

Rathbun will speak on “10 Ways to Make a Difference in Detroit,” with a video showing how people can “give without giving,” and outlining goals they can pursue to help those in need.

Ben Zhu, who has a master’s degree in nutrition and food science from Wayne State and has been accepted in the Ph.D. program there, will talk about “10 Healthy Habits.”

And Stephanie Louzen will share “10 Radical Recipes to Rave About,” showing how anyone can make healthy, inexpensive and delicious recipes at home, and handing out free samples.

Supplementary materials will be passed out for each segment, so everyone who attends will go home with a list of 10 exercises, 10 recipes, healthy food samples and more, in addition to the $50 worth of GNC products.

And while healthy habits yield tangible results, there are also intangible benefits that are just as meaningful.

Abdrabboh thinks back to about 10 years ago, when he was just starting in the GNC business and his family had moved into a new house. Money was tighter then, so they sacrificed a lot, sleeping on the floor at the start, since they didn’t have any furniture.

But Abdrabboh didn’t scrimp on healthy food choices for his family.

“I was making healthier choices, spending money on vitamins and such when I could, and spending money on healthy foods gave me hope,” Abdrabboh said. “I thought, if I take care of myself, I think I will be OK, because it’s contributing to a greater good.

“So that’s one of the things I know people receive when they touch a healthy food or put healthy food in their bodies,” he said. “It gives them hope.”

The Healthy Expo 10 will take place at 7 p.m. Monday, June 16, at Gospel Life Church, 1042 E. 12 Mile.

For more information, call Gospel Life at (248) 547-5890 or visit the MA Foundation at HealthyFoodBank.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.