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The Teal Pumpkin Project

Last year my family started participating in The Teal Pumpkin Project. A wonderful movement to help children with food allergies to enjoy the yearly tradition of trick-or-treating with non-food treats.

We found out last October that my now 2-year-old son has a life-threatening food allergy. No one in our family has a nut allergy of any kind, so when I had made homemade muffins with cashew butter in them for my son for the first time, and had to end up rushing him to the hospital we were shocked, scared, and our lives were immediately turned upside-down.

I have always had such compassion for children and the parents of children with these types of allergies. How terrifying is it to know that your child is allergic to something in food!? It changes everything. Birthday parties, sleepovers, going to school, sports, going on vacation, none of it will be “normal” for these kids.

My son will not be able to do something as simple as go out for ice cream like most kids enjoy doing as a special treat, and we will have to diligently read labels on food and body care items forever. Luckily, the latter two are something I already do if I am not making my own … but that doesn’t mean my last trip to the grocery store wasn’t eye opening (I picked up a vanilla extract I usually do not buy that was on sale, and saw the “tree nut” warning unexpectedly! I almost threw it into my cart to make Jaxon’s muffins with! Always read labels!)

A life-threatening food allergic reactions now sends someone to the emergency room once every three minutes in the United States.

I am very grateful for all of the progress made regarding food allergies. Many schools are not nut-free, and many teachers are trained to up an epi pen.

Although he was only 1-year-old when we began this, and too young for trick-or-treating (and candy!), we started this tradition in honor of him and all of the children with allergies.

 

Launched as a national campaign by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project™ raises awareness of food allergies and promotes inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season.

This year, you can be part of an even bigger movement by joining 100,000 households pledging to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project™! Take the Pledge!

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Take part in FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project™:

  • Provide non-food treats as an option for trick-or-treaters.
  • Paint a pumpkin teal to place in front of your home, along with a free printable sign from FARE, to indicate you have non-food treats available. Download a Sign
  • Make a gift to FARE to support research and programs like the Teal Pumpkin Project™. Make a Gift
  • Register your home on the map!

 

Last year my daughter and I went to the dollar store for some non-food treats for The Teal Pumpkin Project: glow sticks, fun glasses, harmonicas, whistles, temporary tattoos and stickers.

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This year I found some fun little animal figurines and Halloween erasers. We spend $34.00, but I think I went a little overboard! I hear families spending more than that on candy treats, so I thought I did good!

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The Teal Pumpkin Project also sells Halloween Essential Kits for $30.00 here!

tealpumpkintreatI think this is an amazing project and am very grateful to Becky Basalone, the director of a food allergy support group, who launched this campaign.

Another wonderful resource is the founder of Allergy Kids, Robyn O’Brien. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking out her TEDX talk:

 

Robyn is a pioneer for food allergy awareness, GMO labeling, and rethinking food. Her website, Allergy Kids is a wonderful resource for parents with allergies, and for anyone who wants to take back our food system from big corporations like Monsanto. I read her book, The Unhealthy Truth a few years ago and use it as a reference often.

Recently, she posted a blog from a mother who lost her son because of a food allergy.  I read this post before we ended up in the emergency room with my son, and a couple of days after that incident, it popped up on my newsfeed again. I re-read it and sent it to my family so that they could understand the magnitute of this allergy.

This tragic tale is an important one,  especially because of the misconceptions and lack of education around food allergies. Luckily, we found a great allergist that educated us on how to get my son the proper care, after being given poor advice in the emergency room. The nurse practitioner at our pediatrician, who was the first to write a prescription for an epi pen, was very upset that the ER did not have us leave with one or a prescription for one pack, but she told us we could split them up. The allergist had told us to be sure to always keep two epi pens together at all times, giving us a prescription for three packs, one for home, one for the purse, and one for school (when the pediatrician told gave us a prescription for only one pack, and told us we could keep one at school and one at home). It is important to get more than one opinion and to talk to other parents of children with food allergies as well as do your own individual research and reading so you can gather the best advice and care.

The need for so many epi pen packs has been our biggest issue with the rise in epi pen prices (aka #epigate), so I am pleased with the actions that have been taken by the allergy community, leaders such as Robyn O’brien, and families and friends who signed petitions and brought more awareness to the subject!

If we had stopped at just the pediatrician without seeing a specialist we would not have had the proper plan in place, setting my son up for disaster. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not months from now, but even years from now something horrible could happen if we were not prepared. Thankfully, we did cover all ground, and learned that we needed to avoid all tree nuts, mangos, and any food processed in a facility with nuts.

Aside from learning how important is is to always keep epi pens together(they only work for 15 minutes, and it may take longer than that for an ambulance to arrive), we learned that when his body is covered in hives that is a symptom of anaphylaxis. We also learned that only about 9% of kids outgrow a nut allergy. I would not wish this on anyone, it is a frightening thing to deal with but we are handling it, and my heart goes out to every parent who has to deal with any allergy.

So what’s the moral of the story? Be your child’s biggest advocate, don’t just take the first doctor’s word for it,  do a lot of research, get a few “second opinions” and find a good allergist who will take the time to educate you and not take any part of the allergy lightly. Just because the first reaction is hives doesn’t mean that it will always just be hives. We can be very cautious without being alarmists and help keep our children safe.

 

I know I personally always worry about coming across as rude or an alarmist, but then I gently remind myself that I am trying to keep my son safe and that this allergy is in fact severe and life threatening. So please be kind is someone asks your to wash you or your child’s hands before playing with their child after you ate some peanuts or cashews, and patient when they carefully examine a label on food you have to offer, or ask to move cupcakes out of reach of an allergic toddler with fast fingers who doesn’t quite understand what they can and cannot eat yet at a party. Please be understanding if we say “no thank you” to the cake that may not contain nuts, but may have been baked in a pan that had nuts in it prior and may not have been washed properly. We are all just trying to protect our kids, and it takes a village to come together to support one another!

 

Next, let’s take back our food system and keep fighting the good fight!

 

I know that my son is in for a lifetime of challenges, but I am grateful for the many resources and the community of parents who have experience dealing with this. I couldn’t imagine doing this 30, 20, or even 10 years ago! Unfortunately allergies are much more prevalent now, but with that comes more resources for education and support.

 

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