Do you feel a gnawing in your stomach when your body knows it’s almost lunchtime? Do you find yourself musing about the places you could go to eat as soon as the never-ending meeting you were pulled into comes to an end?
Imagine that you wouldn’t get that dreamy lunch today, or possibly even dinner. Imagine that you suddenly became jobless and that you could only scrape up enough money to buy yourself a convenience store hot dog, because spending more would take the better food from your children’s mouths. Imagine that this sacrifice caused you spend the rest of the day in the bathroom because the whole yuck bun aggravated your gluten sensitivity. This scenario could be a day in the life of a food insecure person with food allergies, food intolerances, or celiac disease. For someone with a food allergy, the end-result could even be life-threatening.
What is food insecurity?
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of this term before meeting the great folks at the wonderful and life-saving non-profit organization that we’re about to talk about. Food insecurity is not a goofy trend for those concerned for the self-confidence of their falafel platter. It’s a problem that impacted 87.7 percent (110.8 million) of U.S. households in 2016. In Illinois, 1,506,060 people are currently struggling with hunger–513,270 of those individuals are children.
The USDA tells us that food insecurity is “the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways.”
Now, I’m not pretending to know what it’s like to be food insecure–though any of us could find ourselves in this predicament at any time–but I do know what it is like to have a child with celiac disease and the impact a restricted diet has had on my family’s grocery bills. They have nearly doubled!
I was curious to know if someone had done research to back up my gluten-free shopping woes, and I found a 2014 CBS news article noting a somewhat dated study done at Canada’s Dalhousie Medical School. This study compared the costs of 56 ordinary grocery items and found a frightening 242% increase. That kind of increase is painful enough for any family’s budget, but what happens to those who simply can’t come up with the money to buy allergy-safe foods for themselves and their family members?
Are the celiac, gluten sensitive, and food allergy communities really that big?
Unfortunately, they are. According to the Food Allergy Research and Education Organization (FARE), researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies–5.9 million are children under the age of 18. That equates to 1 in 13 children–many of which have multiple food allergies!
The numbers for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity rival the allergy numbers:
—1 in 133 people have celiac disease, approximately 1% of the population (or 3 million)
—18 million Americans are said to be gluten sensitive.
If you live in the Chicago area, this is where the help comes in…thankfully.
Meet Mend Hunger: a beacon for Illinois food insecurity
I was pleased to meet the lovely Mend Hunger folks at the Gluten-Free Food Allergy Fest in Indianapolis this past September. Of course, I was aware of the national and global hunger predicaments, but it never occurred to me how the local allergy and celiac communities would eat in a financial crisis. (Shame on me.) The thought of being in a position where my only option was to feed my son with celiac disease gluten-y foods and watch him suffer the aftereffects is simply terrifying. Thank goodness Mend Hunger is here for at-need Illinois residents!
Mend Hunger was founded by Aleksa Hacker in 2017 as the only gluten- and allergy-free food bank in Illinois. The organization’s mission is
to close the gap between hunger and health by filling food pantries with foods free from the top 8 allergens and gluten.
For those with celiac disease and food allergies and sensitivities, safe and diet-appropriate foods are a necessity–not a choice based on store prices, cravings, or whims.
Mend Hunger serves our community by partnering with 4 local food pantries to provide no-cost allergy- and celiac-safe foods to serve 29 cities, including Glencoe, Wilmette, Oak Park, Winnetka, Glenview, Northbrook, Lincolnwood, Skokie, Niles, Golf, Morton Grove, Schaumburg. They’re hoping their reach will keep growing.
Thanks to Mend Hunger’s perseverance and to the generosity of many donors, thousands in the local at-need celiac and allergy communities were provided meals in 2017. These numbers are beyond impressive!
Mend Hunger’s first annual Candlelight Cabaret
In November, I was delighted to attend Mend Hunger’s First Annual Candlelight Cabaret–their annual fundraiser and awards event honoring the individuals and organizations that made significant contributions to Mend Hunger in 2017. As you’ve already seen, they certainly had a lot to celebrate!
CEOs from honorees Enjoy Life Foods, Sweet Ali’s, Lifeway Kefir, and Ductilcrete Technologies, The Celiac Project, and Imagination Publishing all received awards for their generous contributions. Guests were treated to a delicious and beautiful charcuterie and dessert array donated by Sweet Ali’s, Glutino, Canyon Bakehouse, Schar, Surf Sweets, Sunbutter, Miyokos Kitchen, and Punk Rawk Labs just to name a few. There were fantastic silent auction prizes to bid on, and don’t even get me started on the outstanding entertainment! The talented Tanya Dutko and Nancy Wiebe Mazurowski sang their hearts out while Barbara Davis was working her magic on the piano. What a night!
Ok, so who wants to help Mend Hunger?
There are several ways you can help make a difference:
–Spread the word!
—Click on this link when shopping on Amazon to give 3% to Mend Hunger.
–Donate through Mend Hunger’s website by clicking this link.
–Visit Mend Hunger at the GFAF Expo! They’ll be at booth 1011, and they’d love to meet you! You can even donate gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods while you’re there.
I always say that the gluten-free and allergy communities are the best. Mend Hunger is surely one of our heroes. Thank you for reading, and I hope to see you at the Gluten Free and Allergen Friendly Expo!
With GF and Allergy-Safe Regards,