Navigating Food Allergies: Securing Safe Food for the Food Insecure
Navigating life with food allergies can present a wide variety of challenges, particularly when grocery shopping. In fact, about 25% of Americans shop for foods that do not contain at least one of the top nine allergens. For the 1 in 7 Americans who rely on food banks to eat, managing food allergies can be even more challenging, as the supply of allergen-friendly foods is often limited.
That is where Securing Safe Food comes in. This non-profit organization founded by members of the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Teen Advisory Group is working hard to increase the availability of allergen-free and gluten-free foods at food pantries and other organizations helping food insecure families. Without A Trace Foods knows this mission is more important now than ever, as the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for food assistance across the US.
Founded less than a year ago, Securing Safe Food has already developed partnerships with 26 food pantries and more than 70 food manufacturers. Here at Without A Trace Foods we want to support the important work Securing Safe Food is doing and allow them to share, in their own words, the critical importance of their mission.
In Her Own Words: Rachel Brooks, Securing Safe Food
My name is Rachel Brooks and I am the founder and president of Securing Safe Food, a student-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the food allergic community’s accessibility to allergy-safe food outside the home. I am eighteen years old and a high school senior from Connecticut; I am allergic to milk, egg, peanut, and tree nuts.
My vision for Securing Safe Food began in January 2020, and the organization launched that March. I currently work with peers in six states, from California to Illinois to New York.
One of Securing Safe Food’s primary aims is to assist the food allergic, food insecure community. For those facing food insecurity, accessing food is a struggle, and having food allergies only heightens that challenge: The food allergic, food insecure population must locate a source of food that is not only sufficient but also safe.
Although my initial plan to work with food pantries and improve options for food allergic individuals developed before the pandemic began, with COVID-19 and an increase in food insecurity across the US, my team members and I realized just how pressing this need was: Allergy-friendly staples, typically scarce in food pantries, were even scarcer due to production shortages and store depletions. If I was struggling to find allergy-friendly food in a grocery store, I could not imagine what food allergic clients were facing at pandemic-affected food assistance programs.
In response, my team members and I began to prioritize our food pantry initiative, networking with local food pantries and allergy-friendly US manufacturers, partnering with donors, and locating pantries that serve a significant number of food allergic and/or gluten-free clients. These pantries pledge to keep our donations segregated and reserved for those with food allergies.
Today Securing Safe Food works with 25+ food pantries in Connecticut, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Thanks to our generous donors, we have provided these pantries with more than 3500 pounds of allergy-friendly or gluten-free food, which equates to approximately 25,000 items — everything from gluten-free pasta and bread, to sunflower seed butter and baking mixes, to dairy-free cheese and beverages, to snacks, cookies, and protein bars.
Several times per month, our team coordinates donation delivery directly to pantries or hand-delivers batches of donations ourselves. The stories we hear from food pantry directors propel us forward: how their gluten-free clients have never tasted such variety before, or how a nut allergic child had never had access to such safe and nutritious snacks prior to our provisions. Further, we work to establish “allergy-friendly” and “gluten-free” shelves or segregated locations in pantries where allergen-free items can be stored if the pantry does not already implement this type of system, as well as provide pamphlets with an educational statement regarding the top 8 allergens.
Each allergy-aware brand we partner with is a step towards expanding our reach. To date, we have collaborated with over 80 brands, and we look forward to new partnerships with inclusive and allergen-free brands like Without a Trace Foods. We hope to continue taking steps to address and improve the lack of allergy-friendly foods in food pantries, widening access to safe and sufficient food for all.
- Food Allergy Research & Education: New Research Shows One-in-Four American Consumers Do Not Purchase Products Containing the Top 9 Food Allergies
- NPR: Opinion: Being Hungry in America is Hard Work. Food Banks Need Your Help
- Consumer Reports: Hunger Crisis: 1 in 5 Americans Turning to Food Banks