It is with great honour that I take the baton from my predecessor Laurie Harada and join this talented and passionate team at Food Allergy Canada as Executive Director. I say now with great humility, that until a few years ago I wasn’t fully aware, nor did I fully appreciate the efforts of this organization. They have helped my family, along with over 2.6 million Canadians, navigate living with food allergies.
So how is it, that today I’m the new Executive Director?
Here’s a bit of my story – I’m the mother of three teenagers, two of whom are twins living with multiple food allergies. Our family understands the lived experience of managing food allergies, and we have seen through the eyes of our twin boys, the challenges of living confidently with food allergies. We were fortunate that our sons started grade 1 the same year that Sabrina’s Law was implemented, giving me a platform to ask questions of the school and advocate for their needs. At the time, I was grateful for this but had no idea the three years of relentless focus Food Allergy Canada had to get this law in place. Working collaboratively with Sabrina’s family and others, Food Allergy Canada helped to create what we now recognize as the first legislation of its kind – a law designed to protect students at risk of anaphylaxis in the school environment. Nor did I understand the actions this organization had taken to create and roll-out educational programming and materials for Canadian schools in order to help them build an understanding of food allergy and its management.
Skipping ahead a few years, now with older children and perhaps a bit more time to give back, a friend suggested I join the Board of Food Allergy Canada. Since 2014, I have served as a volunteer board member, and through this I gained a true appreciation of the impact this small not-for-profit has had on the food allergy landscape – supporting the newly diagnosed, the medically-reviewed educational tools and programming (such as AllergyAware.ca), its advocacy efforts for improved food labelling, and much more. The combination of our lived experience, with the understanding of the potential for impact, provided the motivation and energy to take on the leadership role at Food Allergy Canada.
With a talented team already in place and almost a month in the new role, here’s a preview of what’s to come:
- Continued support of individuals and families in their efforts to successfully navigate food allergies, from diagnosis through the various transitions we take. Providing you with medically-reviewed information, educational tools, and programming that support your journey.
- Advocating for safer dining experiences in foodservice, building on the concept of shared responsibility. While many restaurants make great efforts to be allergy aware, universally applied education, training on food allergies, and consistent implementation of processes that manage food allergens, would make a difference.
- Supporting youth in their transition to independent living. Given that 4 out of 5 young adults go on to post-secondary schooling, this is a key environment for us to educate on the management of food allergies and motivate good self-management practices in young adults.
- Advocating for improved food labelling practices, namely the “may contain” statements. The lack of clarity on what “may contain” means and when it is applied needs to be addressed. At first glance, it may seem like a straight forward issue but there is a lot of complexity involving several stakeholders and will require sustained effort over the next few years. You can count on us to be at the table providing the lived experience.
- Facilitating the understanding of emerging research on food allergy and management therapies. Media headlines at times attempt to grab attention through the promise of a breakthrough finding or cure. While we very much support food allergy research, we know research takes time and we also believe it’s necessary to be transparent and ensure realistic expectations on what’s possible. We are committed to working on your behalf, with medical and scientific experts to help build understanding of these findings and their applicability to impacting your quality of life.
In closing, I do want to go back to my “passing the baton” analogy. My family and importantly my sons, have a deep level of gratitude for my predecessor Laurie Harada and her 14 years of passion and effort that changed how Canadians live with food allergies. I take this baton, knowing the race is not over, humbled by the accomplishments of the past, and energized by the opportunity to make a difference in the future.
Jennifer Gerdts, Executive Director
Food Allergy Canada