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Support group leader profile: The TAEG Team – a profile of the Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group

Sarah Nicholl and Marni Halter

The Toronto Anaphylaxis Support Group (TAEG, pronounced “tag”) was founded in 2000 by Laurie Harada, who later went on to become our Executive Director from 2003-2017. The group is currently being led by the (we’ve got to say it!) TAEG-team of Sarah Nicholl and Marni Halter. We spoke to Sarah about the past, present and future of one of the largest Food Allergy Canada support groups in the country.

Can you tell us a little about TAEG and how it came to be?

Sure. TAEG started in about 2000, Laurie Harada founded it and ran it for a few years. The reason TAEG started was to bring together local families and individuals impacted by food allergy, to provide them with education and support.

Then from there, three additional groups of dedicated food allergy parents took it over throughout the years. In 2012, I wrote to Food Allergy Canada to say I’d love to volunteer, and so did another food allergy mom, Marni Halter. Marni and I took over the group and have been running it since then. This is our sixth year.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Do you have food allergies or a family member who does?

Yes, I have two sons, one of whom is at risk of anaphylaxis to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

Did you make any changes to the group when you took over?

When we took it over I started the website. That’s where we post all the meetings, slides and everything, so there are lots of resources for people to look up if they can’t make it to a meeting.

In June, Marni and I book the meeting space for the upcoming meetings, and then over the summer we plan out the topics we’d like to have. Usually in our last meeting of the season, around May or June, we get votes from people about what topics they’d like to see. Then we contact speakers over the summer and schedule out about five meetings.

Do all your meetings have guest speakers?

Most of them, so it’s kind of like a speaker series. Generally, about twenty or so people turn out to each meeting. We have about 330 families on our distribution list and about 300 on our Facebook page. We get a lot of people who come out to meetings, and others just access the materials on the website.

Do you livestream your meetings?

We have had a lot of requests for the ability to attend the meetings virtually, but we don’t do that yet. We’re thinking about doing that maybe next year if the Internet access in the centre is available.

What kinds of topics have you covered?

We basically source the topics from the group. We get suggestions throughout the year, and then we have that vote in the last meeting. We’ve had camp directors come in and talk about managing allergies at day camp and overnight camp. We’ve had youth panels talk about how they’ve managed their own allergies through different stages. We’ve had Food Allergy Canada come in and talk about the resources they offer about managing food allergies. We’ve had a “partnering with your school” workshop where we walked through some scenarios and provided tools to enable people to set up an action plan to manage allergies in the school. We had a dietitian come in from SickKids Hospital to talk about how to have a healthy diet when you have to avoid certain allergens. We’ve had psychiatrists and social workers talk about anxiety, bullying, and other psychological aspects of allergies. Every year we have an allergist come to do an Ask the Allergist and research review, which is always very popular, too.

Where do you meet?

We’re in our third year at the Edithvale Community Centre in North York. The City of Toronto gives us a very good rate because we’re an education group, so it’s very cost-efficient to use the City of Toronto spot. For that reason, and because in the past we had a grant through Food Allergy Canada, we haven’t had to charge for people to come to the meetings. Our only costs are really the website and the meeting space, and we buy gift cards for our speakers.

Where can people find out more information?

We encourage people to check out our website, because we’ve posted all the resources from previous meetings (here). We have sample action plans, workbooks to help you plan for a road trip or manage your child’s schooling issues. We also have slideshows from many of our guest speakers’ presentations.

Thanks Sarah!

To connect with TAEG or one of our other support groups, visit our support group page. If there isn’t one in your community, we’ll help you get one started.