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    Soup Kitchens, Food Pantries, & Restricted Diets


    Kim Hopkins

    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?


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    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? 

    1. 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;
    2. We can make donations of special foods and request (even in writing) that these foods be reserved for those who need them;
    3. 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; 
    4. 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; 
    5. 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!

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    Hi Kim, I am glad you brought up this subject. Our local support group has recently had three different requests similar to the situation you describe. I have attempted to talk to the local Food Bank officials and they tell me they are too big to be able to help with specific requests. If we donate gluten-free food, it will go into the process along with everything else, so it won't do any good to specify that it is special. The only good news I have to report so far is that Meals on Wheels can make gluten-free meals on request. Presently they make 3500 meals a day, and their gluten-free meals are made in the same kitchen. I am waiting to talk to the registered dietitian that supervises these meals. She works part time, so next week is the soonest I can talk to her. When I do, I will offer to provide gluten-free packaged foods for them. For instance, we get samples from gluten-free manufacturers and would like to share some with them, along with our members. Now that people from all walks of life are being diagnosed, we will be seeing more need like this. I am curious to find out how many gluten-free meals they make each day, and I think there would be quite a bit more if anyone knew it was available.

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    Guest Gabrielle

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    I am really glad to see someone mention this. When I was younger, my mother and I lived by our local church's food pantry. At the time, I could eat whatever I wanted, but my mother was not so lucky. I remember hearing my mom crying in pain, but I was to young to understand.

     

    Now that I'm married and living in another part of the US, I've often wondered about others in the same situation. I've wanted to try to do something for the holidays, maybe put together gift baskets for families who can't make a gluten free Thanksgiving meal. But I've asked the local food banks and nobody knows what I'm talking about.

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    My Girl Scout troop is working toward hosting an allergen friendly food drive here in Jacksonville, NC but I'm running into trouble finding a food pantry that can hold the food. I keep running into the problem of the food pantries stating they will just add the food in with all donations, which will more than likely contaminate the food and make the effort pointless. So now I'm looking into local churches that might work with us on this problem.

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  • About Me

    Kim Hopkins is the founder of Food Sensitivity Resources. She is a licensed social worker and someone that "lives to eat" despite having multiple food challenges. Her mission is to combine her thorough, personal knowledge of food safety concerns with her lengthy counseling, training, & consulting experiences to help people live fully despite dietary restrictions. She offers personal coaching, an informative blog, the Safe Suppers Dining Club, as well as consultation for businesses & schools.

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    Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2018 Jun;16(6):823-836.e2. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.06.037.