Jeannine is a food allergy mom from Montreal, QC. This year for her daughter Nora’s 2nd birthday, she decided to have a donation drive through ECHOage to raise money for Food Allergy Canada in lieu of gifts.
We spoke with Jeannine to learn more about her food allergy story, what inspired her to have an ECHOage party and raise awareness.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Nora. When was she diagnosed with food allergy and how has it impacted your/your family’s life?
As soon as we started introducing solids, we noticed that Nora would get rashes and hives, so we began narrowing down what it was. Around 6-8 months, she was diagnosed with egg allergy and milk or dairy allergy, and we were managing these two allergies at first. Then, right before her first birthday, she had an anaphylactic reaction to something other than egg or dairy. We recognized the symptoms of anaphylaxis, administered her EpiPen® and took her to the ER. Through testing, we realized that hazelnut was the cause of her reaction and we decided that she should avoid all tree nuts until more testing could be done. She was also diagnosed with allergies to sesame and avocado.
It was definitely challenging at first, as we jumped from two allergies to five almost immediately. A month after her first birthday, COVID-19 hit so we were not buying our regular groceries. It took a while to figure out what foods and products were safe for her, and at certain points of the pandemic it was hard to find them in the grocery store.
My younger cousin has food allergy, so we had some familiarity with the condition prior to Nora’s diagnosis. Our vision for our family has been, if we’re having a family event, we should have food that everyone can eat. To this day, if I’m having my family over (not with COVID-19, but in regular times) there will always be foods that are safe for Nora and my cousin. In our household and for family events, we want to make sure everyone is safe and can eat everything on the table.
Where did you go for support upon first diagnosis?
After Nora’s first anaphylactic reaction, I began searching for food allergy support groups and resources, trying to figure out what this diagnosis means for us and how we’re going to navigate it. Upon looking up some resources I discovered Food Allergy Canada’s Facebook page.
What prompted you to host a birthday fundraiser and choose Food Allergy Canada as your charity of choice?
It’s a little different because Nora’s not at the age where she could say, “this is something I want to do” or “make sure my birthday funds go to this.” Nora, being a younger sibling and cousin, has all the toys and clothes she needs. We wanted to make sure we took this opportunity to do something good with her birthday gifts. And that’s when my husband and I decided to set up an ECHOage page and have our “guests” donate virtually. Food allergy is near and dear to our hearts, and we wanted to do our part and make sure we are raising awareness of food allergy. Plus, ECHOage made it really easy for our guests to RSVP and make the donation there, instead of having to set-up something more complicated.
What was your goal for the birthday fundraiser and how did your family respond?
Since we already have food allergies in the family, some of our family members are more aware of the challenges parents and kids living with food allergy face, but others aren’t as aware of the challenges. I was hoping through the fundraiser we could raise awareness in the family about how this is important to us. We felt like this was one of the things we needed to do to advocate for her and to help everyone in the family understand why it’s important for us to triple check labels and pack her own food, for example. With really supportive family we were able to reach a good donation amount.
What is it like managing food allergy?
Nora’s at the age now where if we were to make a dairy free pizza for her and “regular” pizza for us, she’s able to notice that we’re eating different food. When she began realizing that her food looks different, we decided everyone in the family will eat the same food if we’re eating together. It is important for us that everything on the table is safe for her, so it takes some time to plan our meals. This changed our family drastically. We have an older son, so we can’t buy the things he was used to eating because we want to make sure she doesn’t feel left out and that he also understands how important it is to keep her safe. It has definitely been a big shift of how we eat, grocery shop, and do family events.
Where do you go for support?
I’m part of a food allergy mom Facebook group that has been very helpful. It’s a group of moms from all over the world and it’s awesome. I’ve found local moms too. It’s great to have support and be connected with moms that understand what it takes to manage multiple food allergies, as well as get the reassurance that I’m doing what’s best for my daughter. I also go to my family members who have managed food allergies for support.
Are there other ways you support food allergy? How are you raising awareness this Food Allergy Awareness Month?
I’m also part of a general and local mom Facebook group where I raise awareness of food allergy. Often times, moms would ask what treat they should send to school for their child’s birthday. I’ll then leave a comment to keep in mind that some treats are not safe for all kids, and to look for something that is safe from the priority food allergens. I also like to encourage parents to think about non-food treats (like stickers or crayons) for holidays such as Halloween or Valentine’s Day. I also try to bring food allergy into conversations to educate others as much as I can, no matter the setting, or who I’m speaking to.
This Food Allergy Awareness Month my plan is to continue educating myself about food allergy and anaphylaxis by watching various FAAM live events. I also plan on sharing this article with my network to spread awareness!
Thanks Jeannine for being a #FoodAllergyChampion and sharing your food allergy story with us. We are so grateful for your donation! Start your own ECHOage celebration today. Get started at the link below.