Monday, April 25, 2011

UFAN's Easter Egg Hunt a Success!

by Kelley Lindberg

Today, I've asked Michelle Fogg, president of the Utah Food Allergy Network, to write about the first annual UFAN Easter Egg Hunt, which was held on Saturday, April 23! Thanks, Michelle!

The holidays... Oh, how I love them but oh, how they present many challenges for the food allergic and their families! Back in 2005 when my first child was diagnosed with severe food allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, and mustard, a community, neighborhood, church, or even family Easter egg hunt would have been completely out of the question. Hunting for eggs would have been like navigating through a minefield since almost all candy/food contained her allergens and could cause a life-threatening reaction if innocently ingested...who can keep a 15 month old from putting things in her mouth when they look so pretty in those shiny brightly colored wrappers?!
On Saturday, the Utah Food Allergy Network provided parents and children with a totally worry-free environment during our first annual food-free Easter egg hunt! Thanks to the hard work, tenacity, and generosity of our new Marketing & Outreach Coordinator, Maryann Alston, and the other volunteers, it was a huge success! Over 100 people were in attendance and I felt so happy and humble to be able to offer our members a chance to participate in a community egg hunt where they didn't have to go without! The kids got to mingle with and meet the Easter bunny himself, dance and hop around to some festive music, and then hunt their hearts away while filling their baskets with as much as they could with no worries...they got to keep it all! Toys, trinkets, coloring books, movies, balls, stickers galore, but I could tell that what provided the most satisfaction for all involved was seeing the kids uninhibited and safe. In the world of food allergies where everyday requires vigilance and awareness, even without candy, it was so sweet to savor a moment of freedom! We also proved that you don't have to have food to have FUN!!

We have received many unsolicited responses and notes of thanks from those who attended but none summed it up better, or made me cry, than the following post on our UFAN Facebook page by Melanie in Riverton who said, "I just want to say THANK YOU for the Easter Egg hunt. It was the first one my 9 year old participated in that we didn't have to go home and trade out all of the candy. I didn't think it was that big of a deal to him until I saw how differently he acted at this hunt today. He was so excited to go through his eggs. Then he was dancing around as he waited in line to redeem his tickets. Thanks again and again. I'm so glad there are people out there who get it." These photos are worth a million words.

The Salt Lake Tribune also wrote a great article which helps raise food allergy awareness, of which I am SO thankful. ("Kids Celebrate Allergy-Free Easter," Salt Lake Tribune, 4/23/2011) We have already been able to reach out to numerous new members and have surely raised some awareness! I am looking forward to next year already and can't wait to do it all again and try to make it even better!! Thank you to all who attended and gave of their support and really keeps us motivated to serve you. :)

Michelle Fogg, President
Utah Food Allergy Network

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mandatory School Lunches

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week, the Chicago Tribune ran an article about a public school on Chicago’s West Side that has banned home lunches (“Chicago School Bans Some Lunches Brought From Home,” Chicago Tribune, 4/11/11). The principal feels that kids who bring lunches from home aren’t bringing healthy choices, so now all kids are required to buy a school lunch.

However, they do make an exception for medical reasons, such as allergies.

I’m a huge believer in nutrition. So many studies have linked good nutrition with improved learning and decreased behavior problems that I find it hard to believe schools don’t make healthy nutrition a priority. I firmly believe that schools should buy and provide fresh vegetables and wholesome products (and use locally produced food when possible). I believe vending machines in schools should not serve junk food and soda, but should sell healthy snacks, juices, and water. Kids and their parents are welcome to buy junk food on their own time. They can survive without it for 6 hours out of the day.

But while I strongly encourage schools to provide nutritious lunches, I don’t quite understand forbidding students from bringing a lunch from home.

I completely understand and joyously support schools that forbid home-made treats in the classroom, for hygiene and health reasons. I like knowing that food being shared by everyone in class wasn’t handled by someone’s snotty little brother with a virus infection and poor hygiene habits. And I like knowing that food being shared by everyone doesn’t have an allergen or contamination that will put allergic kids at risk, and factory labels help minimize that.

But lunches aren’t shared with the entire class, so the infection/contamination problem isn’t as large of an issue. So it becomes a more individual choice, and less a matter of group health.

It’s true that kids who pack their own lunch can’t always be counted on to pack nutritious lunches. But I think that’s the fault and responsibility of the parents – they should be ensuring that their children make healthy food choices for the right reasons.

I don’t think requiring kids to buy a lunch at school and forbidding home lunches is going to accomplish what the principal expects, because it’s a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t quite fit all. The article says it appears that many of the kids buy the lunch because they have to, then throw it all away because they don’t like it. That’s a lot of wasted food and hungry kids. That didn’t accomplish anything useful for those kids, and it wasted both private and personal dollars.

Heaven knows it’s not easy being a principal, administrator, or head of a school district. And there are never any easy answers. This principal must have felt that requiring students to buy a school lunch would protect them from themselves and from the poor choice some invariably make. But I don’t think it’s going to prove to be the answer she was looking for. The right answer is probably a more flexible, and therefore more complicated one.

In my humble opinion, her decision to make her school offer nutritious lunches is great. But instead of forcing parents to buy those lunches, she should focus on incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum so that kids see the value in it, maybe add some communication to parents showing the demonstrated links between good nutrition and enhanced school performance so the parents can reinforce those concepts at home, and then let the parents and children make their own decisions, even if they are bad. That’s the point of education, after all. We train our children to face their futures by giving them all the tools we can, then stepping aside to let them forge their own successes and their own mistakes.

It’s not really a food allergy issue. The article says kids with food allergies would be exempt from having to buy the school lunch. And presumably the school would make exceptions for religious beliefs, such as kosher restrictions, allowing those kids to also bring home lunches. So selfishly, this policy wouldn’t really affect me even if my school adopted it. But I think it’s an example of someone trying to force their single “right way” onto the entire population. There is seldom a single “right way.” There are good ideas, and good intentions, but they are never as useful if they aren’t backed up by education and flexibility.

Monday, April 11, 2011

ID Tags for Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

As my son has gotten older and has started attending school and participating in sports, I realized that there were times when I wouldn’t be with him, and that means other adults will have to know how to help him if he has a food allergy reaction.

I dutifully talked to all of his teachers and his coaches, taught them how to use the EpiPens and what to watch for. Then one day I was looking at all 25 backpacks hanging on hooks in his classroom, and wondered to myself, “How will the teacher know which of these 25 backpacks has his medicine in it?”

My solution? I went online and found a site that makes luggage tags with photos on one side, and contact info on the other.

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Douglas Jones of Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology in Layton, showed me a similar type of tag he’s created for all of his food allergy patients (and an asthma version for his asthma patients), because the same worry had occurred to him.

So I wanted to share these ideas with you. I put a tag on my son’s lunch box, his backpack, and his soccer bag, so that the teacher or coach can find it immediately in the pile of other bags.

Dr. Jones’ tags have a pocket that contains a card with complete information about the type of medicine to administer, instructions for administering it, and contact information. A neon sticker on the outside of the tag grabs your attention.

The luggage tags I ordered didn’t have room for such complete information, so I list my son’s name, allergies, type of medicine, and contact phone numbers. Then, inside the pouch that contains his medicine, I have a laminated card with more complete emergency information on one side, and general information about how to recognize and respond to a food allergy emergency on the other.
If your kids are in school or in sports, you might want to consider creating an ID tag for their bags for the same reason. The easier we can make it for someone else to find our kids’ medicine and emergency information, the faster the response will be.

If you have a similar idea for ID tags, will you share it with us? Thanks!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sidetracked by Jury Duty

by Kelley Lindberg

Some days just don’t go the way you plan.

Late last week, I got a postcard telling me I might have to report for jury duty this morning. I had to call a number Friday night to find out for sure. I called it. Yep, they needed me to show up.

So I showed up at the courthouse bright and early this morning, certain I’d be rejected as a possible juror because I have opinions, I’m a writer, and I’m an uppity female. Lawyers hate people like me, right?

We started the day with more than 50 of us sitting in a room. A couple of really mind-numbing, nerve-wracking hours later, we were down to 8 of us.

Guess who’s Juror #8?


Immediately after the jury selection process was over, we jumped right into the trial. It’s only expected to last for two or three days, which is a relief.

While it’s not at all the way I expected to be spending my week, I feel like I’m doing what I need to be doing anyway. It’s easy to spout off about my civic duty, I guess, but I really do believe in our form of government, the rights we too easily take for granted, and the responsibilities that come with those rights. It’s my responsibility, my duty, and my honor to participate in this trial by a jury of peers, no matter how corny it sounds (and no matter how awful the case).

Although I thought I’d spend an hour or two getting rejected and then be back home working, it turns out that getting my week hijacked and rearranged for me reminds me that sometimes I have to look to the larger world and set my own problems into perspective. And it also reminds me once again how privileged I am to live in this country, where justice isn’t always easy, but it’s crafted by our own hands.

Next week I’ll be back writing about food allergies. Until then, keep your fingers crossed that I and my seven new friends reach the right verdict.