Last fall, we launched the Allergy Friendly Food Drive Challenge as part of our Summer of TAG program with Canadian hall-of-fame racecar driver Alex Tagliani. Spearheaded by Tagliani, and supported by Pfizer, the Canadian distributor of EpiPen®, this initiative raised awareness of food allergies, and garnered the support and participation of schools across Canada.
During the challenge, classrooms collected allergy-friendly non-perishable foods, donating them to local food banks and charitable organizations. Students also learned about food allergy awareness – specifically how to read food labels and identify common allergens in food products
Recently, we were delighted to announce the winner of the 2016 Challenge. Kudos to Secord Elementary School in Toronto, Ontario. They won the grand prize of 15 iPad Air2 tablets, as well as a meet and greet with Alex at their school!
We had the opportunity to interview the Principal of Secord Elementary School, Mr. George Vlahos, about what the experience was like.
Food Allergy Canada: What kinds of things do you think your students learned? Do you think the Allergy Friendly Food Drive Challenge was effective?
George Vlahos: Oh absolutely. That’s actually one of our goals in terms of managing a school with students and staff who have food allergies. It’s learning how to read labels, understanding that some foods are healthy for some people and dangerous for others. As far as being part of the food drive, we’re looking at the labels and ensuring that they were free of the top 10 allergens so they could be donated.
FAC: What were the logistics like? How did you organize the drive in your school.
GV: That was done through the parents, through the Parent Council. One of our parents who has a child with food allergies organized it and brought it to one of our school clubs. The school club ran it in the school and donated the food we collected to the community centre next door, and it went to families that were in need.
FAC: What grades participated in the food drive?
GV: The whole school. It was open to everybody. We go up to Grade 5.
FAC: Alex Tagliani presented the students with the grand prize. Were your students excited to meet him?
GV: They thought Alex did a phenomenal job. The number one thing Alex did was talk about his own life story. And what was really touching was that Alex is not afraid to drive at 400 kilometres an hour, but he’s very careful with what he eats, because of his allergies to nuts and peanuts. That’s his kryptonite.
FAC: That’s a very good way of putting it.
GV: It’s a good description. Whereas 400 kilometres an hour, Alex welcomes that. And he was able to explain his life story to our kids, and they understood and really connected to that. I think every student is touched by someone they know who has a food allergy. Someone in class, someone in another school, a family member, or a friend.
FAC: There’s more awareness now than there was in previous generations.
GV: And there’s the management piece too; we have Sabrina’s Law, our protocol on how to manage food allergies and anaphylaxis and try to minimize the risk. To make the risk of exposure as low as possible.
FAC: How complicated is that for you?
GV: It really means communicating with everybody, including parents and staff, and working towards a management plan. A communication plan. These are food allergens that are potentially very dangerous to some students, and we ask families to refrain from bringing them to the school. That’s the main way we can minimize the exposure.
FAC: What was the impact of your school receiving the 15 iPads?
GV: It was amazing! We’re an inner city school, and many of our families don’t have this technology at home. The iPads have gone into the classrooms to support kids’ learning. And we’re special, because we know Alex presented them to us.
FAC: So it was very personal?
GV: Very much so.
FAC: Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
GV: Well, I was very proud of our school, our kids, and our families. And it was a super amazing day when Alex came by. He was so warm and personable. It was one of those moments where as a school, we were raising awareness. We took it to the next level in terms of understanding food allergies and how to cope with them. And that was the big point.