An inspiring story of how one young teen is raising hundreds of pounds of allergy-friendly foods for those in need…
I admit – I am a big time Rocker Mom hack! What does that even mean? Well, let me put it this way… if one were to put an orangutan, a donkey and me in a karaoke bar – I am the one likely to get thrown out for being pitifully tone deaf. But, my bashful young son who is now all of 13 found his inner mojo when he got behind the drums at the School of Rock at age 7. And since then ‘me’ – the dutiful mom tags along to every class and tries to put on an intelligent expression when the kids and parents start talking rock music slang – fills, flams, rudiments, rolls 😉
The real bonus for me has been the fantastic friends I have found in the parents at the school. One mom, in particular, is especially close to my heart – Melany and I bonded over food talk, travel etc. and were soon Facebook pals. Our kids both in the same grade started off as little tykes on the Rock 101 ensemble – her Emily (young Ms. Em) on the keyboard and my Arjun on the drums.
One day, Melany’s post on Facebook caught my eye – Emily was raising ‘Allergy Friendly’ food donations for a local food bank. Of course, we donated to a cause so close to our hearts, but I was also very intrigued.
Millennials and Gen Z kids are often categorized as a self-absorbed, entitled lot but I personally have found them to be highly socially conscious, action-oriented and hard working. Despite being a caregiver to an allergic child, I had just vaguely wondered about how people with lesser affordability dealt with food allergies – let’s admit…allergy friendly foods do burn a hole in our pockets!! And here was a 13-year-old trying to collect nutritious allergy friendly foods for those who could not afford it – really?! I had to know what had motivated her and reached out to Melany asking if I could chat with Emily – ‘An interview with young Ms. Em’ if you will.
On a beautiful cold Spring Sunday morning, mom and daughter asked me to meet them at a local gym, Curves – yes, on a ‘Sunday’ morning this young teen was up and about working for her cause. Before I go ahead with my story, I have to tell you about my lovely Ms. Em – tall, slim and graceful with large doe eyes – her funky sense of style has always caught my eye. At School of Rock, she started off on the keyboard and today she is a vocalist too. At school – a sincere student, an athlete, and a dedicated girl scout. But, what wins my heart is her gracious, polite and respectful demeanor whenever I see her. For that – I credit her parents too.
On with my story – I see young Ms. Em setting up a food collection box at Curves – “Safe Foods 4 All”. Apparently, Emily had talked to the local Curves owner and convinced her that ‘Allergy Friendly’ Foods are a valuable donation to the local food bank, Fish Inc.
I absolutely loved the entire display – Emily had made sure that there was a short write-up which explained what allergy-friendly and gluten-free meant and had a list of food items that fell in the ‘safe’ category. She also had put some sample boxes on display, so people could visually instinctively understand. And, a short note about herself and the food bank she was supporting.
Finally, after setting up the display young Ms. Em was ready to sit down with me over waffles and a chat about her journey raising allergy-friendly food donations.
Emily starts hesitantly – her motivation…she had grown up seeing her mom suffer from food allergies and sensitivities. So, when she had to think of a sustainable project for her ‘Girl Scout Silver Award’ she quite simply wanted to do something for food allergy sufferers who could not easily afford allergy-friendly products. I love how lucidly kids think…they see an issue and immediately try to solve it the way they know how!
She came up with a game plan with her parents:
- Individual Contributions: Raise donations from individuals like talking to small business owners and setting up food collection boxes like at Curves, School of Rock and harnessing social media to raise contributions.
- Volume Contribution: Establish a long-term source for bulk contributions. To achieve that, Emily’s parents took her to the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo in NJ. Mom Melany says her daughter is shy, but it takes tremendous self-confidence for a young girl to walk up to those corporate big-wigs and make a case. This young powerhouse visited every stall and talked to them about making a donation and managed to convince a few.
Em’s next step was to google up a list of food banks/soup kitchens/churches in her neighborhood and call each one of them to see if they had seen a need for Allergy-Friendly & Gluten-Free (AF&GF) foods. Her search led to Fish Inc. – a volunteer organization that among other programs runs a Food Bank for the needy. Food packages are tailored to meet the special dietary needs of the individual family. Fish Inc. welcomed Emily’s idea of Allergy Friendly food contribution.
Young Em’s beautiful eyes grew misty as she recounted her first visit to Fish Inc. – ‘It made me so sad to see the long line of people waiting for their food.’ I found myself getting choked up as I listened to this young girl having so much empathy and ability to put together an action plan – you inspire me, young lady. You are my super-girl…
The results of her effort are staggering:
- A buy-in with ‘THREE’ leading allergy friendly companies
- 21 cases of SunButter Jars in 4 varieties including reduced sugar
- 1500 SunButter cups
- 171 Pounds food collected through a partnership with Curves of Greenbrook, NJ and its members
- A total of 700 Pounds of Allergy-Friendly food as of September 2018
- A commitment from a major Allergy Friendly food company to ensure supplies in the long-term
As Fyodor Dostovesky said, ‘The soul is healed by being with children’ – after the chat with Emily, I stepped out into the crisp morning sunshine ready to make a difference in the world.
“Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world” – Roald Dahl in Matilda.