For any parent of kids with food allergies, the start of school is a nerve-wracking experience. When Stephanie Ulinski’s son Aleks started school, she and her husband had the idea to create allergy buttons to send with him. Aleks had been diagnosed with multiple food allergies when he was very young, and the Ulinskis were worried that he might be exposed to food substances that could put his life in danger.
The buttons were a way to alert their son’s teachers and classmates, as well as other parents who might bring snacks to share, that Aleks needed to avoid certain foods. Stephanie placed the buttons on his backpack and lunchbox so that they were clearly visible to everyone throughout the day.
Great Feedback Inspires a Great Idea
From the very first, the Ulinskis received encouraging feedback regarding their allergy buttons. The people who came into contact with her son frequently commented that they had no idea Aleks had any food allergies until they saw the buttons that he wore.
The buttons were so effective at informing friends and strangers alike about their son’s allergies that Stephanie and her husband decided to share their idea with other allergy families. They created the company Food Allergies and Me and began to sell their buttons to the parents of other children with food allergies. “The more people who know your child has food allergies, the safer they are,” Stephanie said.
Common (Allergy) Buttons and Custom Buttons
Food Allergies and Me currently sells buttons for all of the most common food allergies, including peanuts, nuts, shellfish, wheat, gluten, eggs, dairy and soy. They also sell buttons that proclaim the presence of multiple food allergies, for kids whose allergies read like a grocery list. The Ulinskis know what that’s like: Aleks is allergic to eggs, dairy, peanuts and tree nuts, and their third child, Mila, also has allergies to multiple foods.
Buttons for more uncommon allergies are also big sellers at Food Allergies and Me. “We do get a lot of requests for uncommon food allergies like tomatoes, beef, sesame and garlic,” Stephanie said, and so they have made these buttons part of their regular stock.
The Ulinskis are also happy to take custom button orders, in case they do not currently have a button available for a particular food allergy. Just send them an email, and they will be in touch with the details!
Allergy Buttons Are a Hit With Customers
The Ulinskis have been delighted with the feedback they have received since they made their buttons available to other parents. “Our favorites are the stories we get from parents of their experiences with food allergies,” Stephanie said, “and how our products give them a little more peace of mind when they are not around their kids.”
One mother shared that the buttons were a huge hit with her 10-year-old son. “My son was so excited when I showed him the buttons. He was not embarrassed at all. He said this way maybe people would stop trying to swap food with him at lunch even though he’s told them he can only eat the food that he brings from home.”
She also describes how the buttons were a big help for his teachers. “One teacher called them ‘awesome’ and another remarked how much easier it would be for her to remember EXACTLY what all he was allergic to now that she could see it every day.”
T-Shirts, Epi-Pen Carriers and More Are Coming Soon
Following the success of their buttons, the Ulinskis are planning to expand their product line. They have designed a series of food allergy awareness t-shirts, and although these shirts have not yet officially come online, orders for them are already streaming in.
Additional plans for the future include children’s stories and activity books, lunch boxes and backpacks. They are also developing holders that will help teenagers with allergies to easily carry their epi-pens with them at all times, which Ulinksi calls “the thing that we are most excited about. You always hear how teenagers don’t want to carry their epi-pens and all too often you hear a tragic story that could have been prevented if they were carrying it.”
Commitment to Supporting the Food Allergy Community
In addition to sharing their food allergy awareness buttons, the Ulinskis are also committed to supporting the food allergy community in other ways. They are active members of the Facebook group Central Mass Parents of Children with Food Allergies Support Group and attend the yearly Franklin Park Zoo Food Allergy Awareness Day.
Stephanie and her husband want to make their Food Allergies and Me website an all-around resource for allergy families. The blog at Food Allergies and Me features great recipes such as egg-, dairy- and nut-free chocolate cake, as well as advice on challenges such as coping with food allergies during the holiday season.
As they continue to grow Food Allergies and Me, the Ulinskis want to place particular focus on one issue: the critical importance of carrying an epi-pen with you at all times. “With allergies being part of our everyday life, we wanted to focus our passion on a very important issue, Stephanie said. “We want to teach our children the importance of always carrying their epi-pen with them no matter what. We want it to be like second-nature to them and for them to feel awkward without it.”
The Food Allergy and Me buttons can be purchased online at http://foodallergiesandme.co/.