Celiac.com 10/16/2009 - With the downturn in our economy, it is certainly not news that many more Americans are needing to rely on food pantries and soup kitchens to feed themselves. It is also not news that restricted diets, especially the gluten free diet, are very expensive. If you need to eat "special" foods and cannot afford to pay for them, where do you turn?
I have communicated with several people recently who are in this predicament. One woman reported that, when she explained her food allergies and intolerance to her local food pantry, they replied, "If you are hungry enough, you'll eat it" - referring to foods that contain unsafe ingredients. This made my stomach turn. Although much work has been done in recent years to educate the public about food allergies, intolerance, and sensitivities, clearly there is still more to do.
So what should someone in this situation do? It got me thinking. I called my state's Food Bank to ask if they get requests for special foods due to restricted diets. I spoke with the food solicitor, who definitely understood the question I was posing. She said that the agencies that disseminate the food have received requests to meet special diets due to food allergies and celiac disease, but the Food Bank has not been able to meet these requests. They simply have not received donations of such foods. I was given the impression that they won't be formally soliciting for allergen-friendly foods, but that they would alert their large network if these foods are donated.
So who is likely to be the most sensitive to this need and
knowledgeable about gluten and the top 8 food allergens? US! Those of us who have learned to live without common foods due to the risk of severe illness. What can we do?
- We can talk to our state and/or local food pantries and soup kitchens and see if they have received requests for gluten and/or allergen-free foods;
- We can make donations of special foods and request (even in writing) that these foods be reserved for those who need them;
- We can talk to our networks of those with dietary restrictions (local support groups, on line chat groups, family/friends, etc.) and ask them to do the same;
- We can link our local support groups with a food pantry/soup kitchen so that if a request comes in, the support group can try to meet it;
- If there are many request coming in, we can organize a "special" food drive or a fundraiser to purchase these foods, which has the added bonus of educating others and spreading awareness.
Ideas for gluten free and/or allergen free items to donate include soups, cereals, flours, dried beans, dried lentils, pasta, quinoa, and millet. Some have the capacity to accept frozen and fresh foods, too.
The growing number of those of us with celiac disease alone has recently catapulted our community into the lime light. Let's use those numbers to do some good!