We are proud to partner with support group leaders and community advocates across Canada to serve as local resources for individuals and families living with food allergies.
This month, we speak to Angela Harris, who leads the Greater Moncton Allergy Education Group (GMAEG).
Can you tell us a little bit about the GMAEG?
The GMAEG started in May 2013, in conjunction with Food Allergy Awareness Month that year. I started the group on my own in an effort to help families like mine. I had struggled for years to find allergy help, resources and information, both online and in Atlantic Canada. I truly just wanted to make it easier for others and to help families and parents avoid all the stress and heartache that I had gone through.
We had hoped over the years that my son would outgrow his anaphylaxis to dairy. When we did our testing in the months before, it became clear that his allergy was here to stay (for now). As my son was just starting school, it became evident that I was going to need help educating others about anaphylaxis and how to use epinephrine.
I contacted Tammy White at Food Allergy Canada for more guidance, and the rest, as they say, is history. My focus has been mainly on educating schools and groups on epinephrine and helping families find what they need locally. Recently though, my online group had their first in-person meeting and we are already planning the next one. It was great to connect with other families who understand each other and who are interested in helping raise awareness about allergies in our community as well.
What do you think draws members to your group?
Everyone has a different reason for finding us. Sometimes people are looking for help with a specific issue, and other times they are just starting their journey with food allergies. I’d like to think that we are a go-to place for navigating food allergies locally.
How do you feel that support groups assist families in your area in dealing with allergy-related issues?
It’s not easy dealing with allergies. You get smarter and more educated with each passing year; you pick up tips and tricks and find products that work great for your family. But there is nothing better than connecting with someone who just truly understands what you’re going through. It can be a very emotional journey as an “allergy parent” and having other people to lean on, to talk to, or to run ideas by is definitely a gift.
What advice would you give others who are thinking of starting an allergy support group?
I would definitely recommend starting something if there is a need. You never know who you might help just by making a Facebook post. It truly can make a difference for those families who are struggling with a new diagnosis or a new phase in their child’s allergy journey. I’d also say, don’t worry about having it all figured out. Just start. I had an idea for my group, and that has evolved over time and into exactly what all of us (in the GMAEG) need today.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about leadership, the support group, Food Allergy Canada, or living with food allergies?
I honestly can’t say enough about the support that I have received from Food Allergy Canada. Dealing with anaphylaxis changed my life, my son’s life and my family. But it doesn’t define us; it’s now just part of our life. And with education, persistence and all of the amazing programs and tools that we have tapped into from Food Allergy Canada, it has made life so much easier.
The AllergyAware.ca training is incredible, and I so wish that all of the newly diagnosed information and support programs had existed eight years ago. That said, I am so happy that they exist now for those that need them most. My son recently participated in Food Allergy Canada’s Allergy Pals program, and it was unbelievable. It came at a time when he most needed it. He had just turned eight, and had been struggling with feeling “different.” He isn’t friends with any other children with food allergies, and so the Allergy Pals online program gave him an instant virtual glimpse into how other kids deal with their allergies. It was (according to him) awesome!
I have become more and more involved with Food Allergy Canada over the years, mostly due to the amazing people who work so hard to make a difference for allergy families like mine. The staff at Food Allergy Canada are a passionate, dedicated, and extremely hard working group who go above and beyond to advocate and to make a difference for every single one of us.
I joined the board of Food Allergy Canada in 2016, and it is with pride that I am able to help this wonderful organization spread awareness and education. I am currently on a mission to help Greater Moncton become more allergy aware and to make a number of “simple” changes to make a difference.
Thank you Angela for sharing your experiences!
For more information on support groups, how to find one or set one up, visit our support group page.