Celiac Disease

Homeless With Food Allergies: What The Heck?


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My biggest fear as a celiac is being put in prison and having no gluten-free meals. This is why I never kill people or rob banks, mostly. I also have anxiety about hospital stays, earthquakes (although I have a solid plan about grabbing a bag and throwing ALL the food into it before I even go for the photo albums) and other natural disasters that could put me at the mercy of food donations that are filled with gluten, and therefore guaranteed to make me violently ill in the middle of a crisis. I’ve also talked about working in food banks where I see loads of gluten being handed out and thanking the maker that I’m on the side of the table that’s giving, not receiving.

Fun stuff, right?

While I can sit around and stress out about what might be for me someday, but most likely will not (okay, that earthquake thing is inevitable, but let’s stop talking about prison, ‘kay?), something happened to hit the point home about being vulnerable when you have food issues or allergies.

Yesterday the kids and I stopped by the grocery store to buy a few things for dinner. Living in Hollywood we naturally see a large amount of homeless people and we try to help by volunteering at our temple food bank, among other places. Last year the fam stepped it up a notch after a school project my daughter participated in, and now we carry around bags of food for the hungry and homeless and give them out when we encounter someone in need. (It’s a huge benefit being a food blogger and receiving way too many samples to consume.) So when a man approached us and said he needed help, my kids were all, “Come with us!” (Note to self: I may need to adjust their willingness to invite strangers into our car.)

My daughter ran to the IKEA bag where we keep the smaller bags of food and grabbed one for the man. He looked inside and seeing the peanut butter and a few packs of mixed nuts among other items, pulled those out and said, “I’m allergic to peanuts, can you give these to someone else who needs it?”

Damn.

I’m usually pretty good about going peanut-free when I leave my house because that’s just the right thing to do, you guys. At the same time, food banks do request peanut butter because it is a high protein, easily eaten food that can really help the hungry get by. So I do think of peanut butter as being a good substitute. (Admittedly, I also had bags of trail mix with peanuts because during a particularly numbed out point last spring I brought a load of those to my son’s basketball game when I was snack parent. Luckily my husband aborted my attempt at feeding children peanuts and headed to the vending machine instead.) What’s my point. Oh, right.

My point is that wow, you are screwed if you are ever at the mercy of other people to feed you when you get sick from certain foods. It made me wonder about the victims of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the many earthquakes that have rocked the entire world and of course, the thousands upon thousands of homeless Americans. So I’d like to try and do something about it, but have not found a lot of options, other than clearing my own bags of food of any allergens and remembering to be compassionate when preparing food for others.

I did find this organization online: S.A.F.E.—Supplying Allergy Friendly and Emergency Food Pantry, and while it seems to be new and growing, I hope we all can sort out locally how to help. After all, it’s in Maryland and that won’t help the old hippie hanging around at the entrance ramp on the 101. And, again, I know the food bank run by my temple has peanut butter and bagels galore to hand out to the homeless. Most of whom, need and want it.

I personally can’t afford to provide the amount of allergy-safe food to even one food bank that is required in an urban environment, so the task does seem insurmountable even though we are talking about a small percentage of the population. I have reached out to S.A.F.E. and hope to work on this problem in some effective way. If anyone else has any other ideas, please, let’s start the conversation.

You never know when you, or someone you love, will find his or herself in a situation when they rely on donations to eat, and for those of us with life-threatening, or life-altering, food issues, it’s serious. I’m also very aware of a “they won’t have food allergies if they’re starving” mentality that many people do have. Having a food allergy is a serious, oftentimes deadly, problem that does not discriminate by the size of your paycheck, no matter what any a-hole might think. The food safety battle is not as easy as one might think, especially when a vulnerable population is being served. But we have to start somewhere, right?

3 thoughts on “Homeless With Food Allergies: What The Heck?

  1. I think about this a lot- gf food can be very costly- I am lucky I have the means to eat safely (both food and preparation mean since I eat in most of the time). I decided a few years back to donate gf products to the food bank in my area several times a year. I have been told that it is very much appreciated by the staff. It might be worth checking out in other locations and seeing if the food banks are in need of/accepting gf items. Its great to hear that S.A.F.E. exists as well, I’ll have to check them out.

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