Moms Launch Food Pantry Tailored for Kids with Allergies

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If you have a child that is restricted to a “special” diet because of food allergies or other health issues, you know how expensive it can be trying to tailor your meals and snacks so that he doesn’t wind up with hives, or worse. Two Kansas moms with lots of experience in trying to keep their kiddos healthy and happy without breaking the bank decided to do something about it.

Emily Brown and a friend opened the ReNewed Health Food Pantry about a year ago in Overland Park, Kansas, along with a nonprofit to help low-income families with food allergies. ReNewed is believed to be the first such pantry in the U.S., and a similar one recently opened in Philadelphia.

Brown’s daughter suffers from allergies to milk, eggs, wheat, soy, and peanuts. Considering those ingredients are in just about everything, it’s not difficult to imagine how “heavy” the Brown family’s grocery receipts could get. The price of a loaf of gluten-free bread alone is $6.99.

Read: Why Do So Many Kids Suffer from Dairy Allergies?

Eventually, the high costs led the family to seek federal food assistance, but the allergen-free food options in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program weren’t terribly appealing to children. For example, the program substitutes corn tortillas instead of bread, and rice instead of pasta. Sometimes, a kid just needs a plate of spaghetti.

Brown said::

“I was really just kind of disappointed to discover that the assistance that I needed wasn’t there either.”

1 in 13 Children Have Food Allergies

According to the national advocacy group Food Allergy Research and Education, there are about 15 million people in the U.S. who have food allergies, or 1 in every 13 children. Brown’s daughter is far from alone in her search for a risk-free meal that doesn’t taste like cardboard.

An estimated 1 in 10 children in urban areas have one or more food allergies, according to a Johns Hopkins Children’s Center study, and a study out of Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital estimated that 1 in 5 families of children with food allergies are “food insecure,” meaning they often go hungry. [1]

Low-income families with kids who have food allergies spend more than double what mid- and high-income families spend on visits to emergency rooms and hospitals, researchers at Northwestern University recently determined. Around 40% of those children surveyed also reported life-threatening reactions to food, such as trouble breathing and a drop in blood pressure.

Dr. Ruchi Gupta, an associate professor of pediatrics who led the Northwestern study, which was published in April said:

“The fact that they were able to open up a food pantry for kids who can’t afford the special foods for food allergies – incredible.”

He continued:

“The bottom line is that we have to do everything we can to help keep these kids safe. And it’s not asking a lot.”

Brown and her friend and co-founder, Amy Goode, are a bit amazed that the pantry is thriving a year into the project. They were more than skeptical that their efforts would be successful.

But as of mid-May, the pantry had distributed 12,350 pounds of food to roughly 20 regular client families, with plans to expand to another county sometime this summer and to open another allergy-friendly pantry in Missouri later this year. [1]


[1] The Kansas City Star