Celiac.com 11/18/2014 - A recent report from NPR highlighted the challenges for people with celiac disease who turn to local food banks for relief.

Many food pantries simply do not stock dedicated gluten-free items for celiac sufferers. Those that do try to meet the needs of their gluten-free clients face daunting challenges.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons--US Navy; Greg VojtkoSome basic math can help to put the problem into perspective. About one-percent of Americans, or about 3.5 million people suffer from celiac disease. Assuming these folks use food banks at the same rate as other Americans, then, at any given time, one in seven, or about 500,000 of them will rely on food banks for nourishment.

Now, a number of food pantries are making efforts to collect, sort and distribute gluten-free items for people with celiac disease. However, their challenge is compounded by the fact that people with celiac disease are not solely concentrated in cities, where food banks may be more equipped to stock specialty gluten-free foods.

Also, those larger pantries that are located in big cities must, by definition, serve larger numbers of people with celiac disease.

For example, if we apply the numbers to the Phoenix metro area, with a population of 4.3 million people, about 600,000 people would require food pantry assistance at any given time. That would mean that pantries like the Foothills Food Bank would need to stock food for about 6,000 people with celiac disease on any given day.

To their credit, Foothills Food Bank in Phoenix prioritizes donated gluten-free items for people with celiac disease. But keeping enough food on their shelves is a constant challenge, and keeping specialty items, such as gluten-free food requires considerable effort.

So, while relief agencies like Food Bank of WNY in Buffalo, NY, try to educate soup kitchens and pantries about the importance of providing gluten-free items, they face an uphill battle that goes beyond their normal challenges of simply providing food.

One bright spot for gluten-free eaters in need of assistance is Pierce’s Pantry in Massachusetts, which has dedicated a page on its website to helping people nationwide to find emergency gluten-free food.

With these stark realities facing both food banks and celiac sufferers in need of food assistance, please consider reaching out to your local food bank to make a donation of gluten-free food, especially during the holiday season.

Here’s a link to Pierce’s Pantry Gluten-free Food Resource Page.

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