By Peter Levinson
As Wendy Gordon Pake listened to Rabbi Rachel Smookler deliver her message to The Ruach Community during The High Holy Days Experience: Kol Nidre, she heard Rabbi Smookler’s call to action — to work to address our area’s food insecurity. For Wendy, the natural next step was to develop a partnership between The Ruach and Carolina FOODiversity, the organization she founded.
Rabbi Smookler developed the framework and plan for The Ruach Community’s new “Grab-&-Go Lunch Packing Program” and found a way to unite the mission of her project with that of Carolina FOODiversity, an organization whose vision is for people to have access to foods that are safe for them and to have access to the education and health care required for positive outcomes. In addition to the food, each bag will contain educational inserts and information about Food Equality Initiative’s (FEI) subscription-style, direct-to-client marketplace.
Each month, The Ruach Community will donate over 100 lunch bags of non-perishable food to Roof Above (formerly the Men’s Shelter of Charlotte). Volunteers will assemble a portion of the bags in their homes and follow-up with a curbside drop-off to Rabbi Smookler. Rabbi Smookler, together with The Ruach volunteers, will deliver the bags to Roof Above. Carolina FOODiversity will provide additional bags that are designated with labels indicating allergen-friendly foods.
The idea of Carolina FOODiversity was sparked when Wendy attended a webinar, “For the Health: A Conversation on Race and Food Allergy,” hosted by Kansas City, Missouri’s FEI. It was here that Emily Brown, FEI’s Founder and CEO, described a pivotal point in her life. In 2013, Emily was forced to leave her job because no childcare services were willing to accommodate her young daughter with allergies to peanut, tree nuts, dairy, egg, soy, and wheat. Loss of income, coupled with the costs of allergy-free foods required to nourish her daughter, eventually led Emily and her husband to ask for help. Emily recalled visiting a local food pantry to obtain safe food for her daughter and finding only two choices: a jar of salsa and a potato.
Wendy, inspired by her own family’s experience with food allergies, established Carolina FOODiversity. Since late-July, Carolina FOODiversity has worked with food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, allergy support groups, healthcare providers, and Boys and Girls Clubs. Wendy has discovered that many 2020 emergency food providers are well-versed in special diets. Among the challenges they face are sorting and labeling of foods, storage space, and inventory management. Many times the food that pantries receive from donations and standardized shipments from distributors comes in an unpredictable stream.
On the flip side, the demand that these pantries witness is difficult to meet with a generic supply; individual clients’ needs vary, and demand is growing weekly in the wake of the COVID pandemic. Wendy’s goal is to work with agencies to extend their offerings while also easing their inventory concerns.
Carolina FOODiversity believes that collaboration yields high-impact results. Building relationships with the “best of the best” in research, advocacy, and support organizations will lead to teamwork that will end hunger for all. Since that initial webinar, Wendy meets bi-weekly with Emily Brown and her FEI team to strategize ways to help families in the Carolinas who are at the formidable intersection of food insecurity and food allergy. Everyone, especially those with diseases that include food as part of the treatment, deserve foods that are safe.
Much has been said about “food as medicine.” For people without access to affordable and nutritious food, this directive alone is an insurmountable challenge. Add the burden of dietary restrictions, and many times, food is literally unavailable.
An estimated six million children in the United States have food allergies (40% of them with more than one allergy). According to The Washington Post, recent studies indicate that food allergies are present at a higher incidence in poor children and in some groups of minority children. Furthermore, these children’s families’ struggles are greater in terms of access to safe food, medical care, and lifesaving medicine like epinephrine. Poor and minority children with food allergies are overlooked and in danger. (https://www. washingtonpost.com/)
December 2020 Charlotte Jewish News