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Support group leader profile: Adele Thompson of Food Allergy Support Durham

Adele, FAS Durham Support Group leader, her son, and performer Kyle Dine at a special event celebrating kids with food allergies.

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 feature Adele Thompson, the founder and leader of Food Allergy Support Durham. Adele took some time to tell us about her support group, how it got started, and the types of activities she and her members have put together.

You can never quite predict how quickly an allergy support group will grow. And in the case of Food Allergy Support Durham, growth has been astronomical, beginning with the grassroots efforts of one devoted individual, and reaching the point where the group now supports around 110 families.

Adele, who lives east of Toronto in Durham Region, has a four-and-a-half year old son, Owyn, who was diagnosed with multiple food allergies when he was around seven months old, and currently manages seven. She began attending support group meetings in Toronto in 2015 for about a year before deciding to establish a group closer to home. She did so to ensure that support was available in Durham Region without having to drive an hour or longer to meetings in Toronto. As she expresses it, “I thought that this was something missing in my community. . . and I thought it was really quite important to have that local engagement opportunity.”

Starting off with a website and a Facebook group at the beginning of 2016, Adele built the group before holding the first in-person meeting approximately nine or ten months later, in the fall. Her goal has been to model her support group after the Toronto group she attended, which has a Facebook forum, but also holds four to five meetings a year, with guest speakers. And Adele is well on track. As of this writing, Food Allergy Support Durham has held three meetings, and is aiming for four this year in total.

Asked how her support group assists families in Durham region, Adele pointed out that families are often left with many questions about coping with food allergies after an allergist makes the diagnosis, and that “there’s only so much information that an allergist can actually provide to you. Real world information that you need, like, where do you shop? Where do you eat? How do you deal with this school? And it’s those kind of questions we get on our Facebook forum.” For example, one question that came up on the forum was “My kid is going to JK, how do you deal with the teachers? What are your strategies?” And often, Adele says, twenty or more parents will respond to these questions, offering tips and comments about their own experiences.

She also describes the importance of local support groups. As she expresses it, “in a smaller local community, you know the allergists, you know your grocery stores, you know what your school board can and cannot do, and the support is just a lot more applicable. It’s the power of parents that have real life information for other parents.”

Food Allergy Support Durham has indeed come a long way in a very short time. On May 6th, 2017, the group held its first family event in Oshawa, celebrating children with allergies. A free (and food-free) event, it featured a live concert by Kyle Dine, kids’ activities, door prizes, and giveaways. The group was generously supported by over ten food allergy companies, who donated free samples and coupons.

Adele describes the day as “a whirlwind,” with about thirty-five families in attendance. “Kyle played music for about an hour, and he was taking pictures with people and showing little kids the puppets. He had his own booth selling his CDs and DVDs and giving away free posters, and so a lot of people were really happy about that. . . It was awesome! The kids were dancing and singing.”

This was particularly gratifying for Adele, as she and her family often sing his music at home. “My daughter is so shy, but the second she met Kyle, she ran up to him and gave him a hug,” she said.

And the importance of this event didn’t go unnoticed by the families who attended either. They were, Adele said, “so appreciative and happy, and the feedback that I got, the messages and emails that I got, made all the hard work worth it, because everyone had a lot of fun. We met a lot of other parents who normally you just meet on Facebook. It was nice to put faces to names, finally.”

With over a year of success and growth for Food Allergy Support Durham, and an exciting family event, behind her, what does Adele Thompson hope for in the year ahead? Here, she is unequivocal. “I wish more people would come out to the meetings. So far, on average, we’ve had about maybe ten or fifteen people show up to each meeting. So the question is, how can we get more people? Because it’s such an amazing feeling to talk to other food allergy parents who get it. That’s the biggest part, they just get it. So that’s my biggest goal, to get more people out of their online comfort zone and come out in person, because that’s when you get the best outcome, I think.”

For more information on support groups, how to find one or set one up, visit our support group page.