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  • Jefferson Adams

    Food Banks Face Challenges in Meeting Gluten-free Needs

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    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.



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    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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    When I inquired about this particular issue a few years ago at our local food bank I was met with blank stares and a lack of knowledge. I do not know what the status is today, so I definitely try to keep a good emergency supply of non-perishables around for a time where a food bank might be a necessity for me. When I can, I donate gluten free items to the collection bins so they have something for someone.

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    During hurricane Sandy here in the Jersey Shore there were absolutely no resources for packaged gluten-free foods regardless of efforts of those of us celiacs trying to help. Manufacturers were more than willing to donate but county food bank warehouses wouldn't even let us package separate boxes for those in need. The response was" let those affected take what is given to them and figure it out". Believe it or not , this happened. I'm in Monmouth/Ocean county and couldn't get things moving regardless of the more than generous gluten-free manufacturers. However Long Island was able to work with their food banks. How sad.

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    In New York State a state senator made a request and legislation was passed that food bank's had to provide kosher food. I wrote and said that this being the case that food bank's should also be required to provide gluten free options. I did not ever receive a reply.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.


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