Living with dietary restrictions and food allergies is tough enough on its own. For low-income individuals and families, though, it’s almost impossible to afford quality food that is allergy friendly. Many low-income people rely on local food banks for their groceries, but not many food banks have an adequate supply of safe foods for those on restrictive diets.
Emily Brown realized how much of a problem this was when her daughter, at age 1, was diagnosed with multiple food allergies. With assistance from the Women, Infants and Children program, Emily tried to find safe and nutritious food within her daughter’s dietary restrictions. That’s when she noticed a gap in the system and in the spring of 2014, she started the Food Equality Initiative out of Overland Park, Kansas.
“When we started this a few years ago, nobody was talking about this issue,” Emily said. “Nobody was connecting the dots between food allergies and the high cost of food and the impact it can have on families, particularly low-income.”
The first (and still only) organization of its kind in the country, FEI provides allergy friendly food and nutritional education to low-income individuals and families. FEI distributed over twelve thousand pounds of food in its first year open, all gluten free and allergy friendly. About 20 families rely on FEI for some or all of their food supply every month and the number of clients is growing. A second location is set to open in Kansas City, Missouri in late July.
“Everything we do is very intentional. We put a lot of effort and thought into what goes on the shelves and the systems we use here,” Emily said. “For those of us with food allergies, it’s a condition and it’s only really managed by what you put in your mouth. That’s the preventative treatment. If you don’t have that access, you just can’t maintain your health. And we’re seeing research that supports the work we do. We look at the work we’re doing here as a model.”
FEI relies on business sponsors to minimize out of pocket costs and Ona just happens to be their July Sponsor of the Month! Our own business began with food allergies and seeking out quality food that fit within a restrictive diet. Ona founder and owner, Chris Feuille, had health issues several years ago that forced him to eliminate all gluten, grains and dairy from his diet. Still craving sweets, his kitchen experiments with honey and nuts eventually became the Ona products we have today.
Read more about the wonderful work the Food Equality Initiative does on their website: http://foodequalityinitiative.org/about-us-2/