Bringing Awareness To The Teal Pumpkin Project

 

Did you know a teal pumpkin can make a kid feel like a superhero? 1 in 13 kids of the 15 million Americans that have food allergies and can’t participate in trick-or-treating. Halloween is the perfect time to ensure that every child feels included & special. By participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project you can make this a reality for the 6 million kids living with life threatening food allergies. The goal is to have every block in America with at least one home where if even for a moment, all children feel safe & welcome to trick or treat.

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) offers many tools and resources to help you educate yourself and others about food allergies. From your local community to Capitol Hill, information and awareness are keys to making a difference.

FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project is designed to promote safety, inclusion and respect of individuals managing food allergies.

Although we’ve known about The Teal Pumpkin Project, it wasn’t until a Katy mama brought a heart-warming story to us that ignited a fire in us to help spread awareness, as well as shed light on what this initiative truly means for kids and families. It’s more than safe food for kids with allergies. It’s about kids and families feeling safe, accepted, and heard.

Laura Acosta has a son with severe food allergies and found out another boy in her son’s class suffered from similar allergies. As parents of children with severe food allergies they wanted to team up with their preschool to raise awareness about the Teal Pumpkin Project. And last week they hosted an awesome event at the school that all the kiddos loved, but the best part was this amazing display of unity, compassion, and inclusion that occurred in that little school. Every single student and teacher wore shirts showing support of the Teal Pumpkin Project.

We are so lucky to say that the 4 kiddos we have between us are blessed to have almost zero food allergies. But if it’s one things moms have, it’s this innate ability to put yourself in another mamas shoes. The empathy we have for these families and what they go through, even outside of Halloween, is deep and ignited a flame in us to bring a giant spotlight to on food allergy awareness and what we all can do to help.

We talked with 4 special mamas who have kiddos with food allergy about what it’s like, what The Teal Pumpkin Project means to them, and what our community can do to continue to spread awareness, love, support, and inclusiveness.

 

 

Megan Hughes, Mama of 2 from Rockwall, TX:

 

Having to tell your child “that they can’t eat foods like their friends are eating” is heartbreaking as a mom.Trick or Treating is a nightmare. Our son has Eosinophilic Esophagitis in which certain foods cause eosinophils to attack the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow, make him vomit, and cause many other symptoms.

For Hudson his current trigger foods are wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, dairy, tree nuts, and chicken. In addition to his EoE, he is anaphylactic to tree nuts and dairy which means he has to carry around an Epi Pen with him everywhere we go.

When we heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project we knew we had to participate. As we filled our bowl up with toys, fangs, balls, stickers, and other non food treats, we noticed how many other kids needed it too! And the kids that didn’t have food allergies, actually preferred the toys!

Last year we had over 19 houses that had registered on the map (through foodallergy.org) to visit and our son had the time of his life, and the best part was he got to enjoy all of it, instead of being told no or worry about his safety.

 

Maya Gharfeh, Mama of 2 and an Allergist/Immunologist from Waco, TX:

 

Halloween can be such a fun time of the year. What child, and child at heart, doesn’t jump at the opportunity to get dressed up for the sake of a bucket of tasty treats? Well, for us mamas with food allergic kids, Halloween actually can be a very stressful time because our children are readily made in contact with their food allergens and the risk of a life threatening reaction seems inevitable. So, we consider not letting our kids participate but then the thought of seeing your little one disappointed by not participating in all the fun seems too unbearable a burden to take. How’s a mom supposed to keep her little one safe and still have fun?

That’s where FARE’s (Food Allergy Research and Education) Teal Pumpkin Project comes in. The teal pumpkin symbolizes a safe Halloween for all kids — even those with food allergies. By placing a teal pumpkin at your doorstep, you’re telling your food allergic neighbors that you have non-food treats to offer your neighbors. Items like bubble wands, stamps, stickers, or glow in the dark bracelets are a great, fun and safe alternative to peanut m&m’s for a peanut or tree nut allergic child.

As a mom to a 3 year old girl with a tree nut allergy, I love supporting and promoting the Teal Pumpkin Project because it means that my sweet girl can go out there on Halloween and dress up as a kitty cat (for the 2nd year in a row), have a blast, and at the end of the night, I don’t have to take away her bucket of treats. She can enjoy her little treats and still be safe because non-food items do not pose a threat to her health. As an allergist, I promote this project so that my patients and their families can also safely enjoy Halloween and we can spread a new sense of normalcy in the community on what a safe Halloween for all children can look like.

 

Laura Acosta, Mama of 2 from Katy, TX:

 

Our lives changed in 2016 when our son, Owen, turned 8 months old and he had his first solid food. Within minutes of eating a few bites of a baby food Greek yogurt pouch Owen starting violently throwing up and broke out in hives. We headed to the pediatrician and she recommended running a food allergy panel. We fully expected to hear back that Owen had an allergy or intolerance to dairy. That day we found out that Owen had severe allergies to all but one of the top 8 allergens and many more mild allergies. We have no family history of food allergies and we didn’t know how much our world would be rocked by this news. We didn’t know where to start with introducing new foods and every first bite of something left us holding our breath and saying a prayer. Fast forward and Owen is now three and thriving. None of his allergies have improved, but we embraced our food allergy life and the resources available to us. This journey has had many a hard day, but it has also led us to our tribe of people dedicated to keeping our son safe and included.

We quickly realized that Halloween was going to be a little tricky, no pun intended. 😉 Owen is contact reactive so reaching into a bucket to grab a treat that he couldn’t even eat was not an option. This is when we discovered The Teal Pumpkin Project and its mission to make the Halloween season inclusive and fun for all trick or treaters by promoting non-food treats. We jumped all over this project and its mission.

We have been blessed, because there truly is no better word to describe it, with an amazing Preschool. Foundations Academy in Katy embraced Owen and all of the responsibility it takes to keep him safe. Not only do they keep him safe, they keep him included in as many activities as possible. Then the fates aligned and Liz and Andy showed up to Foundations. Liz is a fellow food allergy Mama of an amazing little boy named Andy. Andy has very similar and equally severe food allergies as Owen and is also 3. While food allergies are more common now, finding someone so similar to you is not so common. We instantly became friends and finally felt the benefits of having a tribe that completely gets it. Advocacy for our boys and for spreading food allergy awareness is so important to both of us.

When you get two Mamas together who want to change the world for their kiddos, big things can happen. We were ready to make waves for them. We knew we could be their voice. When we approached Foundations Academy to allow us to do a Teal Pumpkin Project event to raise awareness the director, Christy, replied with an immediate and enthusiastic yes! We read food allergy kid friendly books to each class, provided Teal Pumpkin Project crafts, and sent home literature to parents to spread awareness and to educate. The school wanted to show us that we were not alone in this journey and they showed up big. We walked into the school that day ready and eager to spread awareness. What we didn’t fully expect to happen was to see an entire school, students and staff, decked out in handmade teal pumpkin shirts. Let that sink in. Over 144 people coming together to show that unity and inclusion was a priority. Cue the ugly tears. We were so touched that our efforts and the efforts of the school far exceeded any expectations we could have had. We were reminded that while this journey can feel isolating, we were not alone. Not even a little. We plan to continue to annually support the Teal Pumpkin Project and hope each year our efforts can grow larger. Head over to https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project to learn more and check out all of the free resources available.

 

 

 

 

Sara Lanthorn, Mama of 4 from Katy, TX:

 

We have 4 kiddos ages 5, 4, 3, and 22 months. Our oldest has no food allergies at all, but our 3 younger ones have all been diagnosed with FPIES (Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome). It is a food allergy that effects the GI system. Reactions begin 2-8 hours after ingestion and include vomiting (to shock sometimes) and burning acid poops along with internal bleeding and inflammation. Reactions from a single exposure have lasted up to 10 days.

Doctors know very little about FPIES and there is no blood or skin test to diagnose or find a trigger…purely trialling foods and waiting to see what happens. Between our 3 FPIES kiddos our household food allergies are dairy, soy, peas, green beans, wheat, sweet potatoes, cashews, and pumpkin. We keep our house completely free of their allergens because the slightest cross contamination causes a reaction and we all eat what’s safe for everyone. More than once we’ve had to leave playgrounds because kids are running around with unsafe foods. We love the teal pumpkin project in our house!!! It allows our kids a moment of normalcy in a world where they often feel like they are missing out. They get excited for non food treats because they know that they actually get to keep those. As they react to things even processed in the same facility as their allergens we cannot risk letting them eat candies that are typically safe as often special Halloween packaging is handled in a different facility and/or packaged on a shared line. I’m thankful for the teal pumpkin project bringing awareness to food allergies and helping make a holiday that should be super fun and at a point in life where kids should be carefree a little less stressful and safer. We already have to say no to so many things and adjust how we celebrate different holidays, so it’s great to have moments where their experience gets to be the same, or at least very close to the same, as other kids.

 

If you want to learn more about the Teal Pumpkin project & help spread awareness, here’s how you can help! 

1) Place a teal pumpkin by your door.
2) Register on the Teal Pumpkin Project map at www.foodallergy.org
3) Buy inexpensive options such as toys for trick-or-treaters.
4) Share this post.

 

 

Photography by Charlsie

 

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