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Gatekeeper. Advocate. Parent.

Being the gatekeepers and advocates for our son’s food allergy, we constantly run into obstacles.

Our son joined Cub Scouts this year and was so excited to participate in all the activities. Now, we are getting prepared for the annual spring blue and gold banquet which we were told would be pot luck. We have always enjoyed a pot luck meal. Who wouldn’t? It is always fun to share recipes and try new foods and dishes; however, not for someone with a severe food allergy. In fact, now, we cringe at the thought of pot luck and all the unknown sources of food. After the meeting, we approached the den leader in charge of the banquet and asked about possibly doing something more catered or could we even be in charge of the food for the banquet to ensure the food would be safe for everyone to eat! To our disappointment, we were turned down and actually felt like a deaf ear was turned our way. This Cub Scout leader indicated that the pack would be providing the main dish and everyone usually signs-up to bring a side dish or dessert. "If this doesn’t work for your family, then you can just bring our own food." How does this foster inclusion? How is this in keeping with the Scout Law which includes being kind? A Scout is supposed to treat others as they want to be treated. We definitely have an opportunity to foster more compassion here.

The teachers and staff at our son’s elementary school work hard all year, and periodically the parents provide the teachers with tokens of appreciation. Our school does a rotating snack basket which includes providing chips, crackers, cookies, sweets, fruit, yogurt and drinks. It rotates each month from grade to grade and this month, it’s our turn. I quickly signed up for the cookies and sweets to ensure we could provide completely nut-free options for the teachers; But after signing up, I was told by the head room mom that these treats do not need to be nut-free. After all, the snacks will be in the teacher’s lounge and the children don’t go in there. However, the teacher’s like “Grab and Go” snacks, which means the snacks will leave the lounge and could likely end-up in a ‘nut-free’ classroom. We tell the students in my son’s class that they must bring nut-free snacks to school, but it is fine for the teacher’s to bring snacks containing nuts back to the classroom? If we allow this, then we are just reintroducing those allergens back into what was a safe environment. Hence, this is another identified opportunity for more education and awareness.

This past weekend, our eldest son was invited to a birthday party at a local restaurant, Ledo’s Pizza, and the rest of our family was invited to join in the festivities. We made the usual call to the restaurant and asked to speak with the manager. During the call, we tried to ascertain the restaurant’s knowledge of food allergies and whether or not they can accommodate a child with a severe tree-nut allergy. The first person we spoke to did not know what we were asking. We then spoke to a second who tried to interpret for the first. After speaking with second individual, we concluded that they were not sure of the origin of the food and therefore could not guarantee that it was safe. As a result, we dropped our oldest son off to celebrate with his friends and drove to another local restaurant that we knew was safe.

Not a day goes by that it does not continue to amaze us as to the lack of understanding, compassion and education around food allergens. Do you have similar stories to share? Please share your stories by commenting to our blog or sending your story for future consideration in a blog entry.

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