Raising awareness at any age: 10-year-old showcases food allergies at school wellness night

Luke Melendez is only 10 years old, but he’s proving that age is just a number when trying to raise awareness of food allergies.

Allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, and tree nuts, Luke ran a booth at his school’s recent Wellness Night in order to create awareness about food allergies.

Luke Melendez

Wellness Night, which mom Sarah Nicholl describes as “a way for families to get active together and learn about healthy, active living,” had about 100 attendees – 50 adults and 50 children. Luke had fun teaching about food allergies “because a lot of people didn’t really know about them at all.”

Luke has been educating others for years as he routinely fields questions about his food allergies throughout his daily life. His efforts go back all the way to kindergarten when he started wearing his epinephrine auto-injector in a waist pack at school.

There’s one answer he thankfully can’t provide with much recollection, “Sometimes they ask me if the EpiPen hurts, because it’s a needle. I don’t really remember (if it hurts), but I don’t remember it hurting that much.”

Not remembering is okay with Luke, though. “I don’t want to remember,” he laughed, “and I don’t want to have another [anaphylactic] reaction!”

Luke wanted to take part in Wellness Night “because I’ve never done it before. It’s usually older kids who do it, so I thought it would be fun.” His brother Connor, 8, was also excited to help with the crafts at the event.

Showing people how to use an EpiPen® was one of the Wellness Night highlights. “I really liked showing people how the EpiPen worked using a trainer pen, because it’s kind of fun to use. A lot of people had never done it before.”

“We had a bunch of trainer EpiPens, and as people came by, [Luke] would say ‘would you like to learn how to use the EpiPen?’ and he showed everybody. Then he got them to use it as well,” Sarah said. “People liked trying the trainer EpiPens.”

“A lot of parents will have kids with food allergies over to their house for playdates, but those parents typically haven’t had the chance to use trainers before. Some of the parents came up to me after, and they said that they’ve been to first aid classes but haven’t actually tried the trainers so they appreciated the practice.”

The booth also featured a game in which people tried to name five of the top priority allergens. “A lot of people tried again and again because they wanted a prize, but most people didn’t get it on the first try,” Luke said. Eventually, contestants started recruiting partners, at which point people started winning prizes with more regularity.

For her part, Sarah feels schools are doing a good job of raising awareness of food allergies in general but thinks the breadth of knowledge could be wider. “There’s a lot of awareness about allergies in the school system, but that’s mostly focused around peanuts and tree nuts, so just getting some awareness around the top priority food allergens would be great.”

In the end, Luke did some learning as well, and what he learned indicates that more events like Wellness Night are sorely needed. “I learned that a lot of people didn’t know much about food allergies.”

Thanks Luke, Sarah, and Connor for doing your part and educating others at Wellness Night!