By Kristen Chandler
Living with food allergies is not cheap. The medication and doctor visits just to manage allergies are expensive, and that’s not including unplanned emergency room visits and having to refill auto injector prescriptions. Health insurance does help with medical costs. However, food is not covered by insurance.
If you live in a rural area as opposed to a bigger city, you have probably noticed the already limited allergy-free food selection is very small. Then when you realize that the allergy-friendly foods cost more than the foods containing allergens, it can get discouraging, especially if you live on a budget. There are federal programs that assist with buying food, and there are food banks and pantries, but most of these do not pay for or supply a lot of the foods required for people who have medically necessary dietary restrictions.
Two Moms, One Mission
In 2014, moms Emily Brown and Amy Goode met at a food allergy support group in Kansas City. Their children were the same ages and shared some of the same food allergies. Having to seek out food assistance for financial reasons, Brown found that there was little to no assistance available when it came to the expensive foods needed for her daughter who was allergic to peanuts, egg, dairy, wheat and soy. The two women decided that more needed to be done to help out families in need both medically and financially. They launched the Food Equality Initiative (FEI), a non-profit corporation with the mission to provide gluten- and allergy-free foods to low and middle income families struggling with celiac disease and food allergies, and to also advocate for these individuals. In 2015, they were able to open up the country’s first allergy-friendly food pantry, called Renewed Health.
Expanding Renewed Health and FEI to Help More Food Allergy Families
The FEI began with Brown, Goode and a handful of women who started off as volunteers but now hold formal titles. As a group, their professional skills range from education to health care, and most are also personally affected by food allergies or celiac disease. The women of FEI also collaborate with a medical advisory board consisting of eight medical professionals in the Kansas City area. Together they work to bring safe and healthy food to their communities while providing education, awareness and advocacy at the same time. Since opening in 2015, Renewed Health has helped over 70 clients and provided more than 12,350 pounds of allergy safe food to those in need.
Geographically, Renewed Health is closer to the Kansas City residents on the Kansas side than it is to those on the Missouri side. Brown worked with the local Community Assistance Council (CAC) director Pam Meek to create a food-allergy friendly pantry on the Missouri side, in addition to their already existing food pantry. The Missouri food pantry opened in August 2016.
Others have followed in Brown’s footsteps. A mother/daughter team in Plymouth Meeting, Philadelphia opened the Rachel’s Way Gluten and Dairy Free Food Pantry earlier this year.
Besides the three mentioned above, the My Kid’s Food Allergies team is not aware of any other food allergy friendly food pantries at this time. However, if you know of any food pantries in your area that offer assistance to food allergy families or those with celiac disease, please let us know in the comments. We would also love to hear any thoughts you have about food allergy pantries. Do you live near one of the pantries we mentioned, and have visited? Have you or someone you know looked into starting a food allergy friendly pantry in your area? Leave us a comment below!