by Libby McClayton
According to FARE, food allergies affect 1 out of every 13 children, or approximately two students per classroom. This staggering statistic, coupled with my dedication to improving the health and well-being of children and communities as a whole, sparked my interest in S.A.F.E. Food Pantry. I was drawn to S.A.F.E. Food Pantry in particular because S.A.F.E. is the only organization in the region (and one of the only organizations in the country) whose mission is to provide gluten free and allergy friendly foods to those in need.
In my past experience working in low income communities, I worked with a sizeable number of students with food allergies. Although the schools and non-profits I worked for did their best to provide nutritious allergy friendly meals for the students during their programs, there was no guarantee that after their programs ends that these students had nutritious, safe, meals at their homes. Food insecurity in children is associated with poor quality of life, which could inhibit children from fully participating in school and social activities. I am proud to serve on the board of S.A.F.E. Food Pantry where we are taking strides to help children and families in need so they live up to their full potential.
Libby McClayton serves as the Board Treasurer for the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
by Michael Bianca
Please also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn @safefoodpantry to keep up to date with news from the S.A.F.E Food Pantry and results from our 2016 #GivingTuesday campaign.
Michael Bianca is the #GivingTuesday Chairperson and serves as a Board Director for the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
by Tiffany and Allan Holtzman
We started the SNAP Challenge with optimism that we could stretch our $44 ($22 for each of us) to supply us with five days worth of food. Along the way, we learned that SNAP benefits do not go far to assist people with special dietary conditions as we tackled a diet free from gluten and the top allergens of wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.
Prior to the challenge we ventured to Trader Joe’s and Wegmans and bought the following items to total $33.96:
Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 5.49
Organic Sweet Peas, Frozen - 1.99
Organic Strawberries, Frozen - 2.69
3 Bananas - 0.57
Organic Buckwheat Groats - 4.49
Organic Garbanzo Beans - 2.99
Organic French Green Lentils - 2.99
Organic Basmati Rice - 4.59
Organic Tomato Paste, Canned - 0.89
Jones Turkey Links Frozen - 2.59
Organic Carrots 5# - 3.99
Lemon - 0.69
SUBTOTAL - 33.96
We wanted to keep some money in the budget for buying meat later in the week, if necessary. By Tuesday evening, we dipped into our remaining budget, spending $6.03 for some chicken pieces that were on sale, leaving us with $4.01 remaining.
Here is what we learned from our experiences, in no particular order:
This SNAP Challenge was definitely an eye-opening experience for us. We are extremely grateful to be able to afford the gluten free and allergy friendly food that we need and look forward to assisting those who cannot afford safe food through the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
Tiffany Holtzman is the Founder and Board President of the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry. Her husband, Allan, is a dedicated supporter and volunteer for the organization.
by Michael Bianca
Ever since I can remember I have had to deal with the fact I have a fairly severe peanut allergy. Luckily, I was able to find out very early on and have grown up my entire life avoiding a food that is a staple for most children. As far back as I can remember I have been reading every single ingredient list for a food I was about to eat and if I wasn’t sure what was in something, not eating it.
The most difficult part for me was going out to eat. I was embarrassed to ask the waiter if a certain food had nuts in it so I would either stick to something I knew, or not eat at all. While I have been incredibly diligent about making sure I knew what was in something before I ate it, I’ve had my fair share of close calls. Most of the time it was from ordering something and realizing once it came that it included some sort of nut and not being able to eat it. There is nothing worse than being hungry, waiting for your food to come and then once it is served not being able to eat it!
Another difficult thing to learn to deal with was going to baseball games. I am a huge baseball fan and as anyone who has gone to a game before knows, baseball and peanuts are synonymous. It was tough for me to go to a game and not enjoy myself because someone around me was eating peanuts. Most of the time I could move to another seat, but there have been times where I could feel a reaction coming on and I had to leave.
With all that said I have been incredibly lucky for someone who has a food allergy. My parents had the resources to take me to an allergist and were able to buy food that did not contain anything I was allergic to. Some people in my situation aren’t that lucky and don’t have those options. That is why joining S.A.F.E Food Pantry was an easy decision for me. I couldn’t imagine being hungry and not being able to eat what food was available because I was allergic to it. Through my involvement with S.A.F.E my goal is to help build a place that individuals and families can go and get access to safe food that they may not be able to afford.
The good news is awareness is at an all-time high. When I was in elementary and middle school there were no precautions implemented in schools and restaurants like there are now. While this is a huge step, there is still a lot of work to be done for those who are food insecure with allergies. My hope is through S.A.F.E we can take that next step forward in making sure everyone has access to safe food.
Michael Bianca serves as a Board Director for the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
by June Ramey
My journey into the world of food allergies began 9 years ago when I got a desperate phone call from my daughter, asking me to move in with her, my 6-year-old grandson, and her new husband, Bob. Within six months of their marriage, he had become increasingly ill with numerous ailments never fully diagnosed. She dearly needed another pair of hands with a driver's license.
As we researched Bob's bewildering symptoms to find ways to give him a better quality of life, we began with gradual changes. Good quality vitamins and probiotics were our first line of defense, and we then moved on to eliminate soy and gluten from our diet. We determined early on that any changes we made, would be for the whole family, as we were all in this together.
Bob's health improved a bit, and my daughter, Kris, noticed she began feeling better also. We continued to eliminate other common allergens, such as artificial sugars, ginger, peanuts, and tree nuts, and saw added success. However, it was too little too late, and shortly after that, Bob's health declined and he died.
Although Kris wasn't officially diagnosed until a couple years later, we knew she had Celiac Disease, IBS, and candida, a yeast overgrowth in her body. We continued on the diet and just when we thought we had Kris back on track and healing, her health took another turn. Through testing, we discovered we had to eliminate tomatoes, anything fermented, fruit, condiments, dairy, natural sugars, and yeast.
At this point, there were no packaged foods we could open for a quick meal, and we quickly learned the joys of cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients and herbs. With the elimination of each new allergen, all our favorite recipes had to be reworked with substitute ingredients. Especially in baked goods, when you have to replace more than a couple key ingredients, nothing turns out the way you expect it to. We fed the garbage disposal a lot, and joyfully celebrated the successes. We documented all the recipes that worked, and went on to design new dishes to give us a greater variety of foods.
Realizing there had to be a lot of other people who were struggling with multiple food allergies, we contacted a publisher. At the end of four years, we had published a 400-page cookbook called Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You.
As Kris' list of allergies increased, we noticed a correlating increase in the cost of our grocery bill. We considered ourselves blessed to be able to afford the great food, but wondered how people who are less fortunate, manage to feed themselves and their families. When I was asked to join the Board of Directors for S.A.F.E. Food Pantry, I saw an opportunity to make a real difference in a greatly underserved community, by helping to establish a food pantry that specifically addresses the dual problem of food allergies and food insecurity.
Food allergies are on the rise, and due to the increased cost of allergy-friendly foods, there will be more requests for safe foods from food pantries all over the U.S. We are establishing partnerships, raising awareness of this increased need on our local level, and invite interested people from all walks of life to join with us in whatever way they can to promote this important work.
June Ramey serves as the Board Secretary for the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry. She and her daughter, Kris Dzagan, co-authors of Celiac Creations for Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You will be speaking at this Sunday's Food for Thought session. Click here for more information or to RSVP for our free educational session.
We are so grateful to everyone who was able to donate food or money for our first food drive on Saturday, May 7 at the Giant Food in the Village of River Hill. Thank you to the generosity of our Food Warriors, we were able to collect over 126 pounds of gluten free and allergy friendly food for the Howard County Food Bank.
The food drive kicks off our new partnership with the Howard County Food Bank, a program of the Community Action Council of Howard County. With the assistance of Advisory Council member, Maureen Burke, owner of One Dish Cuisine, we will be working with them to provide safe food options for our neighbors in need.
Speaking of One Dish Cuisine, they will be serving as a permanent collection point for gluten free and allergy friendly food. Look for the clear, plastic bin by the front door of their business. You can drop off food donations during One Dish Cuisine's business hours. Financial contributions to the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry can be made on our website.
We have a lot of exciting events coming up in June. Visit our Calendar of Events for more information. We will be announcing another food drive soon.
When this organization was in the planning stages, I started to realize the importance of an effective team to go from vision to reality. I consider myself incredibly blessed to have met an amazing group of people who are part of our Board of Directors and Advisory Council. On this Volunteer Appreciation Week, I would like to introduce you to our volunteer team.
The first person outside of my family who believed in the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry was Maureen from One Dish Cuisine. Her enthusiasm for the mission propelled me into starting the organization. Although she is incredibly busy with the café and unable to serve on the Board of Directors, she is a valuable member of our Advisory Council guiding us as we work toward opening our first physical location.
Maureen introduced to me to June, who serves as our Board Secretary. June is dedicated to our mission and worked with me to build our Board of Directors. She is my rock, and I greatly appreciate her sage advice.
Then, June introduced me to Melissa, who serves as our Board Treasurer. Melissa is not afraid of a challenge as she has tackled our nonprofit accounting and bookkeeping. She is currently on leave from the organization due to the birth of her first child.
Soon after Melissa, Margo joined the Board of Directors. Margo has contagious enthusiasm and passion for our mission. She is the chairperson for our first Food Drive, which will occur in early May.
Libby was the next to join the team as a Director. Libby is super creative and has a lot of great ideas. She was chairperson for our first #GivingTuesday campaign in December and is serving as chairperson for our presence at the Community Health Fair in June.
In January we added two additional people, Sandra and Michael, to the Board making us the “Super Seven.” Sandra has an unbelievable number of community connections and a strong passion for serving the community. She is chairperson for our Client Support committee.
Michael has a personal connection to our mission and again has great enthusiasm for building the organization. He is currently serving as Interim Treasurer while Melissa is on leave.
Another important member of our volunteer team is Emily, who serves on our Advisory Council. Emily has a strong background in project management and helped us complete our first strategic plan. She will be working with us to implement our plan.
The S.A.F.E. Food Pantry would not be where it is today within the dedication and countless hours of these volunteers. A simple thank you does not fully express the deep gratitude I have for this team. We look forward to adding new volunteers to our organization soon and hope you will consider joining us as we provide gluten free and allergy friendly food to those in need.
P.S. I must also mention my husband, Allan, who puts up with my long hours and is willing to help behind the scenes. His love and support are endless, and I would be unable to do this without him by my side.
by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan
Each of us with food allergies has our own unique story to tell, our journey through the deserts, mountains of hardship, and the unexpected moments of hope and inspiration. We share a common bond—the insatiable drive for survival, and the compelling hope that we can improve our situation. The sum of our lives is not encapsulated in any moment when we might feel the most helpless, and where our restrictions seem insurmountable. So, how do we transition from victim to victor?
Embrace the challenge! Think about it. If life was always the same, never changing, it would be boring. (How many days in a row can you eat your favorite food?) This is a new adventure and opportunity for you to learn something exciting, to explore the unknown. It doesn’t have to be scary or dreadful. Find a way to make it fun.
When we first started down this road and I realized I couldn’t eat anything with gluten in it, I hated cooking. In fact, I would have rather done yard work and fixed the roof than spend an hour in the kitchen chopping vegetables and making dinner. I had lost my enthusiasm for eating, except for foods that were high in carbohydrates and sugars. I lived for that “instant gratification” and “sugar rush.”
Once I realized I either had to start cooking differently or starve, I accepted the challenge. In fact, I was determined that this setback wasn’t going to beat me! We started cooking from scratch, reading every ingredient on every label, and coming up with creative new ways to fix an old meal.
Make it fun! It became a family game for every member to rate the meal on a scale of one to ten, with one meaning you were going to throw up and ten meaning you would pay a lot of money for that meal in a fancy restaurant. Anything that rated six and under was either thrown in the “do not make again” pile or redesigned. Unless it was a unanimous vote that the meal was awesome, we always asked the question, “What would make this better?” When a meal rated nine or better among all of us, we knew it was a winner!
Another game was to try to guess the ingredients. We still play this game when we go out to a restaurant and like a particular dish. We will then try to reproduce the same taste in our kitchen. If we bring home leftovers, we will compare it with the dish we’ve created, just to see what we need to tweak in our recipe. We will brainstorm possible ingredients we can use as substitutes, do some research on that ingredient, and then try to incorporate it into a recipe to see how it responds in the cooking process. If we find something that works, we create variations that are different enough to tantalize the taste buds, but not cause us to reinvent the recipe. Each of us, including children and guests, provide feedback and suggestions based on our own individual preferences.
Accept who you are! You are wonderfully unique, even if you have siblings who were born on the same day as you. There has never been another person exactly like you nor will there ever be! Find ways to love who you have become and who you will be, even with all of your imperfections. Sometimes it’s the imperfections that make us beautiful! This includes loving yourself, even in the midst of your struggles. Food restrictions are not the sum of who you are.
Think about how healthy (or unhealthy) you feel at this very moment. You are beginning a wonderful journey toward feeling better and helping your body heal. Take a minute to imagine how much stronger and healthier you will be when you’ve made positive changes in your life. Keep this model in your mind every time you get frustrated or bored with your options. You are exceptional and you will overcome!
Get back to basics. What is it that you love to do? What motivates and energizes you? If you don’t know, figure out what you absolutely dislike and what drains your energy. Once you’ve identified those things, look to the opposite to see if that’s where your passions are hiding. Find time to do those things you love.
Stay positive! Always try to find the positive side of everything. Dare to see things in a new light. Okay, so you can’t eat some of your favorite foods. Give yourself a little time to mourn the loss, but then look at the positive side of the issue and find a way to celebrate the new you. What are the other wonderful options available to you? How good will you feel after staying away from foods that make you sick? Who ever knew that food could taste so good? Is this a good excuse to get one of those kitchen gadgets you’ve been thinking about buying for the last six months? What will you reward yourself with when you meet your goal?
No matter what is going on inside you or around you, practice the art of positive thinking and watch how your health will improve (And so will your cooking!). Situations that once seemed hopeless will become opportunities for success. Don’t fret if you try something new and it turns out to be a “failure.” Some of our best recipes were “failures” intended to be something else! Besides, you may be just one step away from success.
Seek out support! Eating differently is a lifestyle change. You are not alone in this effort—many people have had to make this change, just like you. Look at your immediate family and the style in which your family deals with problems. Is your family unit like the Three Musketeers: one for all and all for one? Or is your family more like independent superheroes: every man for himself? Adapt and adjust to find the support you need.
Do any of your friends or co-workers struggle with the same issues? Food is a wonderful way to connect with others. Bring in your favorite healthy recipe to that potluck lunch or going away party and see what happens. I once brought in home made to a going away party at work. Several months later, people were still talking about how good it was, and a couple people even asked for the recipe! You can use multiple food allergies as an icebreaker in a conversation with people you've just met. Doors of support and encouragement open up when two people share a hardship.
Look for formal or informal support groups. These can be found in local papers or newsletters, clinics or even on-line. If you can’t find one in your area, start one!
Give back to the community and encourage others! Research your illness or allergy and learn as much as you can about it. Share what you’ve learned. It’s empowering! When you talk and share with others, listen to what they are saying and encourage them to share what they know. Everyone has something to contribute. Even those people who are great in their fields of expertise, have stood on the shoulders of those who came before them. Build each other up so you are stronger together.
And this is just the beginning!
Perseverance through hardship builds character, and so does the joy and celebration of a new life! There is more awareness now about food sensitivities and intolerances than there were ten years ago—even five. Because of this, more alternative foods are available each year. Take advantage of all your resources and go for it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!
From Board Member June Ramey and co-author Kris Dzagan - Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You.
We are gearing up for our next Food for Thought information session on Sunday, March 6 from 2-3PM. This time we will be in the meeting room the Howard County Library System's Central Branch located at 10375 Little Patuxent Pkwy. in Columbia, MD.
Join us for an interactive session where you can learn more about the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry and get your questions answered. Meet our Board of Directors and have the opportunity to provide suggestions on how we can make the most impact in the community. We look forward to seeing you there!
These sessions will be held at least quarterly. If you cannot attend this session, please stay tuned for future Food for Thought information sessions.
Please RSVP on EventBrite using the link below:
by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan
As you may have discovered, allergens can hide in the most unlikely places, and even products that have been safe before, can have changes in formula. Products often have fillers that are common allergens, such as soy. I admit that there are times when I feel bewildered by ingredient lists. I mean, why is a chemical sweetener (sorbitol) a necessary ingredient in shaving cream?
If your allergies are not severe, you may think a little bit won’t hurt you, or if you don’t break out in a rash, there’s no problem. But the truth is, you may not know what it’s doing to your body. Many of the effects of allergens can be subtle, but reactions may intensify with multiple symptoms that may leave you back at square one. It’s best to be safe and read all labels.
Be especially cognizant of anything that can be absorbed sublingually. When a substance is placed under your tongue, it diffuses through mucous membranes and absorbs into the vast capillary system. As a result, the substance has a fairly direct route into your bloodstream. (Connelly. Why We Take Medicines Under Our Tongue)
This is not an inclusive list by any means, but only meant to jog your brain to think in terms of your own lifestyle, and places you might not have thought to look for allergens.
• Suntan lotion
• Shaving cream
• Hair conditioner
• Hair coloring
• Perm solutions
• Facial cleansers
• Moisturizing lotions
• Foundational makeup
• Eye shadows
• Lash conditioners/thickeners
• Polishing agents dental hygienists use (insist on knowing--most agents have gluten)
• Body wash
• Hair spray
• Household detergents including dish soap
• Prescription medications (ask your pharmacist to see the inactive ingredients)
• Generic drugs as opposed to brand name drugs
• The hard coating encasing pills
• Ingredients used to make gel caps for capsules
• Lotion used in ultrasound (ask in advance and insist on knowing)
• Nonstick cooking sprays
• Natural flavorings (that obscure listing at the end of ingredients that can be anything)
• Products you’ve always been able to trust before (because formulas change without notice to the public)
• Laundry detergent
• Fabric softener
• Dryer sheets
• Moist flushable wipes
• Toilet paper
• Anything that goes on your body, in your body, or can be inhaled
Connelly, Thomas P., D.D.S. printed in The Huffington Post February 18, 2011 08:38 AM. Why We Take Medicines Under Our Tongue. Retrieved January 22, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-p-connelly-dds/medicine-in-the-body-_b_823530.html
From Celiac Creations For Multiple Food Allergies: How To Survive When Your Food Is Killing You by June Ramey and Kristine Dzagan. Ms. Ramey serves as Secretary for the Board of Directors of the S.A.F.E. Food Pantry.
The S.A.F.E. Food Pantry is an all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) organization based in Howard County, Maryland.