Founder of Smart Allergy~Friendly Education
FoodASC Member since 2016
Please tell us about yourself and why you are interested in food allergies.
I am a mom of two kids who live with ever changing allergies and sensitivities, which have included dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, bananas, avocados, kiwi, penicillin, dogs, cats and anaphylaxis to peanuts and tree nuts. As a mom, it is my responsibility to raise them to be healthy, happy and active participants in the world around them. Although food allergies can add very different and real obstacles to achieving some goals, I believe they don’t have to stop you.Although food allergies can add very different and real obstacles to achieving some goals, I believe they don't have to stop you. Click To Tweet
In 2007, in addition to both of my kids managing multiple food allergies, my son was diagnosed with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. I had been very proactive in ensuring safe snacks and foods were available for both of my kids at their childcare. However, I realized at this point that I was going to have to do more to make sure that the staff caring for him were prepared and educated on treating life-threatening allergic reactions.
This is when my true advocacy began.
I trained the childcare staff how to use epinephrine auto-injectors and taught them the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis. In order to educate my son’s classmates, I read children’s books to the pre-schoolers about characters living with life-threatening allergies.
Over the years, I have developed curricula for students from pre-school through 8th grade including puppets, videos, books and activity sheets. I continue to be actively involved in the classrooms , particularly at the beginning of the school year, around the holidays and during Food Allergy Awareness Week each May.
Please tell us about your business.
In 2009, I expanded my role as an Allergy Educator and Consultant by creating my own business, Smart Allergy~Friendly Education, aka, S.A.F.E. and my blog, Smart Allergy~Friendly Education.
My blog is for people looking for every-day dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free products you can find in most grocery stores. I understand the expense living with food allergies can create and my heart goes out to those struggling to find safe alternatives while maintaining a budget. I also enjoy sharing positive and inspirational narrative writings on my blog. I have been fortunate to have many of my articles featured by food allergy groups such as FAACT, AllergyKids, Rudi’s Gluten Free and SunButter, for whom I am currently an Ambassador.
I used the acronym S.A.F.E. for my business and decided to create and trademark my own S.A.F.E. Food Allergy Labels. The inspiration came from a personal need to ease our family stress. Having two kids with two different sets of allergies was difficult. I came up with the idea of color coding food.
What a game changer!
Each child was given a set of colored labels which they could place on their safe products in our pantry and refrigerator. Eventually, I created large and small labels which were available in 4 different, brightly colored options. The larger ones had the added benefit of empowering the kids to add their names.
2014 was a transformational year for me.
I spoke at a FARE Food Allergy Mini-Symposium in Boise, was selected to be part of the Idaho Women’s Journal National Speaker Series and was a presenter at the FAACT Teen Conference. It was after these experiences that I knew my passion was public speaking. I wanted to inspire others to realize they could live a full and enjoyable life despite managing personal challenges.
Describe a challenging experience you had related to food allergies and your lessons learned.
Over the years, I have found dealing with adults can be challenging.
When my son started school, his classroom was nut-free because of 3 students with severe nut allergies. At Christmas time during his kindergarten year, the parents and children were invited to help the kids decorate gingerbread houses. As homeroom mom, I made sure that all the icing, graham crackers and candies were SAFE for each child so that no-one was excluded.
Unbeknownst to me, the parents sitting at the table next to ours were making jokes as they helped their child string licorice across their child’s display.
“Here is the rope for Santa to quickly escape from the food allergy home”, was one of the comments overheard by another parent.
While furious, I was not surprised to hear of this comment because it was NOT the first time I had had issues with these parents. The next day, I confronted the dad calmly and asked if we could talk because it appeared there were some issues surrounding the food allergy kids and restrictions.
He let me have it. He was a medic and KNEW that airborne allergies were rare. He informed me of how inconvenient it was for his family to have to make accommodations for the 3 nut allergic kids in our classroom. We ended up in the principal’s office in a very heated conversation. I was angry and dumbfounded. Fortunately his equally difficult wife, who was a substitute teacher at the school, was no longer working in the new year and they left the school.
Overall, it was a horribly, emotional experience. I couldn’t believe I was dealing with adult bullies. Fortunately, I have found they are few and far between. This encounter motivated me to continue educating the kids that were around my son and his friends. The teachers and parents may ONLY be interacting with our kids for a year, but friends, POSSIBLY A LIFETIME.
Describe a rewarding experience you had related to food allergies.
One of the most rewarding experiences for me is watching my kids advocate for themselves, and do it well. When my daughter went away in 6th grade to her first overnight camp, she had a counselor who tried to tell her that dairy allergies and dairy intolerances were the same. She nervously, but correctly, told the young counselor she was incorrect and explained the difference. She was so proud of herself, as was I, when she recounted the story.
My son amazed me this past year when he and one of his closest friends taught their classmates how to properly use epinephrine auto-injectors. Watching the pride in their faces as they were the bearers of knowledge was incredible. Rather than being the kids who are sometimes excluded, they were the ones leading the show. Both boys told me that they would like to teach similar classes in the future and I will make sure it happens.
What motivates you to do what you do?
My motivation is to inspire any kid, parent or adult who thinks they have to live in a “bubble” and can’t enjoy life. My kids have been traveling since they were 3 months old and I hope to fuel their passion for adventure, travel and experiencing the world in person, NOT just from the safety of their home.
Do you have a go-to resource? If so, what is it and why is it useful?
My go to resource for educational materials is FAACT. They have 3 different food allergy curricula for schools which I use regularly. The interactive activity, The Food Allergy Detective Kids Activity, is my favorite option in their K-3 materials.
Last year I found the Allergy Adventures YouTube series which is great for middle schoolers. When kids ARE asking to see the rest of the videos, you know they’re engaged.
FoodASC has so many different resources which can be used in a variety of educational settings, especially the cookbooks and children’s books.
What do you wish other people knew about food allergies and what’s one action that can be performed to increase knowledge and awareness in the general population?
I wish people understood how isolating and worrisome living with food allergies can be, particularly life-threatening allergies. I have had adults who have lived with food allergies their entire lives tell me that “maybe I shouldn’t focus on the allergies so much”. My response is “and how do I do that?”.
Life-threatening allergies, the kind that can stop you from breathing, can’t JUST be ignored. Food and food worries are a reality they deal with EVERY day. At school. In the cafeteria. Riding a school bus. Going to the movies. Snacks with the sports team. These activities ALWAYS come with the awesome responsibility of our kids protecting themselves.
The older they get, the more they realize the responsibility and consequences of their choices. It’s scary for them and for parents.
What advice would you give to someone just embarking upon this journey?
My advice for someone new on this journey is to know that you are NOT alone. Take advantage of resources such as FoodASC, designed by parents who have traveled this journey ahead of you and are there for you.
Find the resources that speak to you. Maybe it’s an online forum. Your allergist. A blog. A local support group.
Take it slow.
Be kind to yourself. Realize that allergies aren’t just about keeping your kid(s) healthy and safe, you MUST also take care of yourself.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
I personally believe increased EDUCATION is key. Whether at home, school or work, have patience with those who don’t understand your food allergy worries or concerns. I believe it’s an individual’s worries and fears of hurting our kids that often makes them act insensitively. Empower yourself with knowledge. Continue to educate yourself and others around you. Your journey may be taking you on unexpected twists and turns, but you just may end up traveling to exciting places you never imagined!
Thank you Daniella for being part of our Member Spotlight! Have any more questions for Daniella? Ask them in the comments below.
Member Spotlight is our monthly column in which we interview FoodASC members to highlight their businesses, publications and personal experiences. If you are interested in being featured or nominating another member for the spotlight, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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