by Amanda Painter, South Chapter Coordinator
When I decided to attend my first FARE Walk for Food Allergy, I didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t have a local walk and traveled to participate in this one. I was compelled to attend though, for the sake of my daughter, and maybe for the sake of my own sanity.
The funds raised at the walk were for FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). This organization (and predecessors, FAAN & FAI) had been my go-to for information as I was in the beginning stages of this food allergy journey. I was happy to do a small part to support this organization.
During the ceremony, the speaker spoke of her child with food allergies, how important it was to educate those around the child, and the hope for a cure. I looked through the crowd and saw tears in the eyes of other mothers; the same tears that were in mine. The connection was immediately there. They too were working tirelessly to avoid another reaction in their child. They worry that they won’t respond fast enough. They fear losing their child to the wrong food. They hope for a cure.
When I left the event I knew there was a larger community standing behind me supporting my child, my family and me. I knew I wasn’t alone with all of the challenges we faced, and challenges yet to come. I was a part of a community that understood and worked to create change. I left that event making plans in my head of how I could contribute more to this community that means so much to us. Fast forward to today, and now I co-chair a local walk.
I walk for my daughter
I walk to show my daughter how much we support her. I want her to feel the support of this community and know that she is never alone with the challenges she faces. She has a team behind her. A support network that is much greater than just our family and friends there walking with her. There is a community that knows her struggles and celebrates her triumphs with us.
I walk to have a morning that is all about her. She is often restricted in one way or another at kid-friendly events. We spend carnivals, festivals and other events following behind her, reminding her to be aware and not step on the popcorn spilled on the ground. Asking her to not touch this or that. Stopping a well-meaning person handing out free samples. Avoiding the melted ice cream on a bench. Answering her questions of, “is this safe for me?” The answer is often no. But at our walk, the answer is always yes. Yes, go play, enjoy and be unrestricted for the morning.
I walk for a cure
I’m a firm believer in accepting the diagnosis of food allergy and not being focused on the “someday.” I’ve moved past the stage of thinking “surely she’ll outgrow these allergies soon.” We live in the present moment, and in this moment she has multiple life-threatening food allergies. Despite this diagnosis, she is thriving. We still hope for a cure. A cure would allow her (and millions of others) to not live in fear of a reaction.
I walk to raise awareness and share education
Until there is a cure, it is vital that those managing food allergies live a full and happy life. I want this for my daughter and for everyone managing food allergies. It takes an educated and caring community to support individuals with food allergies. I want my child to be safe and included. I want her to be surrounded by those who “get it” and encourage her to make healthy choices. I want everyone around her to know how to help in an emergency. I want to surround her with a community that is compassionate to her challenges and support her to manage her diagnosis confidently. Awareness and education are crucial for all of this to happen.
I walk for 15 million Americans, millions more around the world, and their families
I walk for the parents that struggle to afford allergy testing and life-saving medication.
I walk for the adults managing food allergies in the workplace.
I walk for the mom afraid she will pass her food allergies onto her unborn child.
I walk for the college student that is navigating living away from his/her parents for the first time.
I walk for the teen challenged to be independent and remember all the steps to stay safe.
I walk for the child wanting desperately to fit in and not be excluded by classroom treats.
I walk for the preschooler struggling to forget the terrifying ride in an ambulance to the hospital.
I walk for the toddler too young to understand the consequences of trying a friend’s snack.
I walk for the mom that thought it was just another morning, feeding her baby a food for the first time. Not knowing her life would be forever changed in that moment.
I walk for the family that grieves the loss of a loved one due to consuming the wrong food.
I walk to honor the memory of those who have passed - Natalie, BJ, Sabrina and too many others.
I walk in hope that we will not have to add more names to the list.
I believe that focusing on something productive allows less time to dwell in the negative. Participating in our walk allows me to do this. It allows me to be a part of the solution to the challenges my family, and many others, face every day. It allows me to teach my children to do the same so that they will strive to be healthy and productive individuals. We chose to be positive and work to make our community and world better.
by Amanda Painter, South Chapter Coordinator
Every cupcake, cookie and piece of candy brought into a classroom has the potential to either place kids with food allergies at risk of a reaction or exclude them from an activity that every other child in the classroom gets to participate in. Why are children intentionally excluded or having their health put at risk? Many will say, “This is how we’ve always done it.” Why is that valid reason?
Times change, things change. There was a time when public schools didn't provide accommodations for children with learning disabilities, or allow children in wheel chairs access to all schoolrooms and functions. Since 1990, great strides have been made with accommodations thanks to the American Disabilities Act. Yet, this type of exclusion happens to children with food allergies today.
Yes, kids love to celebrate (so do adults!), but why does the reward for a job well done or celebration of a birthday have to be a dessert? Does this fun really need to be based on food? Removing food doesn’t remove the recognition or the party.
So how do we change this? I suggest taking a step back to look at where the true focus should be and what is to be accomplished with each celebration and reward.
A child’s birthday celebration:
Once we refocus on the intention of the reward or party then we can understand how to best accomplish the goal, in a fun way, that doesn’t involve food. Create special crafts or artwork for the children to take home as keepsakes. Have group activities or games that get the kids up and moving. Provide a unique educational opportunity that makes learning extra fun. Create memories, move the body, and stimulate the brain. Instead of encouraging unhealthy relationships with food, set the example that food is not the focus of fun. Promote compassion, inclusion and respect for other’s differences.
What about snack time? Especially for younger children, there will be times when a snack is needed while at school. One simple suggestion, which will also help ensure the safety of children with food allergies, is to snack in the cafeteria. The cafeteria is for eating; the classroom is for learning.
For the parents of kids with food allergies that are frustrated with food in the classroom, be sure to work with your child’s school to create a plan ahead of time. I advise seeking a Section 504 plan for your child, which is part of Federal ADA law that promises equal access and nondiscrimination for individuals. Children with life-threatening food allergies may medically qualify for a 504 plan. This plan will identify what accommodations will be made to keep your child safe AND included. Remember, inclusion isn’t about restrictions; it's about allowing everyone to participate safely. Having a safe box of treats that are different than what the other kids eat at a celebration is NOT full inclusion. I encourage you to read more about 504 plans from the experts at Allergy Law Project and Wrightslaw to help you create a plan specific to your child’s needs.
Parents, as you request food free celebrations, I recommend that you create a list of creative ideas to take to your child’s teachers and activity leaders. Requests for food-free celebrations will be better received if you suggest alternatives.
To the teachers and other activity leaders (coaches, Sunday school teachers, troop leaders, etc.): think outside the box when it comes to celebrations. There are so many alternatives. Be the adult that took the time to include every child. I guarantee that it will leave a lasting impression on the child, and a much better one than if he/she was consistently excluded while in your care.
Rather than focusing on food, why don’t we think outside the box and focus on wellness and inclusion.
Share with us: what are your favorite ideas for food free fun in the classroom?
Here are a few food free suggestions from some of our blog readers:
· Have classmates make cards for the birthday girl/boy and make a book out of them.
· Treasure hunt around the classroom.
· Have a parent come read to the class and donate the book to the classroom.
· Bring a special item from home for show and tell.
· Dance party
· Holiday themed parade
· Perform skits
· Have a bubble party outside
· Pajama or hat day
· Nonfood treats: glow sticks, stickers, matchbox cars, bubbles, pencils, erasers.
For more suggestions on food free celebrations, incentives and fundraising, check out FACET’s list of food free fun.
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