Now more than ever, grocery stores and food companies provide us with an abundance of information about potential allergens in our food. Most of us have choices if we are allergic to nuts, wheat or to any of the other more than 170 foods that have been reported to cause reactions.
However, food allergies are more challenging for those who are food insecure. As many as one in 10 inner-city children, for example, have one or more diagnosed food allergies. Yet most food pantries and the government-sponsored food package provided through the Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) are not designed to address these unique food needs.
For families already struggling financially, having a food allergy creates an additional burden on the household. To keep children and other family members with a food allergy safe, they cannot come in contact with specific allergens. But such foods are not always within budget. A study found that gluten-free food can be 242 percent more expensive than regular products. And this is in addition to the cost for EpiPens used to treat extreme allergic reactions.
The Food Equality Initiative (FEI) in Kansas City, Missouri, helps to address this gap. It ensures Kansas City-area families facing food insecurity are also able to access allergy-free, healthy foods. In addition to maintaining four food pantries in the Greater Kansas City area, FEI holds educational sessions and advocates for inclusion of more allergy-friendly foods in government programs.
Missouri Care partners with FEI to help connect individuals and families diagnosed with food allergies and/or Celiac disease with healthy food options through the FEI food pantries.
In summer 2018, the Missouri Community Connections team reached out to our Community Operations team in Tampa to research how many members in the state were affected by food allergies and Celiac disease. They discovered the total came to more than 3,000 individuals.
To help serve these members and the Kansas City community, the Missouri Care Community Connections and Community Relations teams provided FEI with an $8,000 Community Health Investment. Additionally, our Provider Relations team developed a flyer for physician offices to help make members and providers aware of the program and its benefits.