the boost we needed…

A big reason I started this blog was make myself accountable for the swirling ideas that keep me up at night.  The thoughts trip over themselves and I fool myself into thinking that daylight will somehow organize them and provide a moment of peace which I’ll use to put those ideas into action.  But let’s be honest, daylight is not havin’ this plan.

It’s the small tasks of emails and phone calls and writing a list that are standing in the way of the big things that will let me sleep at night.  Some of those things are stressful, like sending our food allergic son to a new school safely and the financial bag o’ fun that most people deal with.  Some of it is exciting, like the new resolve that I want to make a living through art again, and of course, the Safe Staples program.

It felt so good to get the Safe Staples program out there, because I knew I needed to start somewhere. (If you are unfamiliar with the program which gets gluten free and allergy-friendly food into food pantries, check it out here and if you’d like to hear more about the reason behind it, here you go.)  A dozen times, I had to fight the urge to “finish” it more before sharing it because my brain knows we’ll learn as we go and adjust as needed.  But now what?  Which is the next step in the many places it can go?  I’m more than a little overwhelmed at all of its possibilities.  I mean, how incredible can this be? How many families can we help?  How many safe cupcakes can we send with a child to a birthday party?  How many bellies can we fill?  How many hearts?

I know, that was total cheeseball.

But it’s true.  It feels a bit like I’m standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon, afraid to look.  I know it will be as uncomfortable as it will be beautiful.  I believe in this program.  This vision and my work habits need to reconcile.  I can’t be afraid of how great it can be.  I just need to take a step. Any step.  I have been holding back out of fear of making a wrong move. So totally useless, I know.  Just when the guilt was starting to outweigh the to-do list, my incredible cousin Patti swooped in to snap me out of the standstill she didn’t even know I was in.

One of the many dreams I have for the Safe Staples program is to assist people in having their own Safe Staple food drives.  If we can’t all share a table, we can certainly share our food.  Life is about sharing what you’ve got.  Small gestures connect us and seeing a food drive box fill up, package by package, is one easy way to create a positive connection.  Why yes, I do have feathers in my hair and am currently singing folk songs.

What did Patti do?  Patti proposes to the staff at the Bright Horizons Childcare Center that she works at to make Safe Staples the beneficiary of their annual Great Kindness Challenge.  I never, ever thought to ask her to do this.  She just did.  Because I come from good people. The entire center (staff, children, parents) focuses on one task or organization and this year, at this moment, they are having the very first Safe Staples Food Drive!!!


That food drive kit I contemplated instead of sleeping actually got done!  I sent her a few docs, hit the store to take some photos, and finished a couple more documents and Patti made an info board for the families at the center.  I kept it simple, because most of these families don’t have experience with shopping for a special diet.  Maybe the food drive kit isn’t quite right.  I’m stating now that while I will post it this week, it will likely change.  Permission to fail a bit granted. We’ll adjust as we learn.  I’ll post in the Safe Staples tab and on the Safe Staples facebook page. Let me know what you think.  While I was plotting to invite others to have food drives once I had the ultimate, most perfect, food drive tool kit all complete and purty-like, Patti beat me to the punch.  Action? Way more useful than purty plans.

As if a food drive wasn’t enough, there are a whole bunch of cherries on top.  Food allergy and celiac and galactosemia and autism awareness to a huge group of families with young children? Yes, please.  The opportunity to educate kids about food allergies and how their classmates may have to deal with them?  More, please.  I brought Patti our favorite food allergy books so the teachers can read to their rooms during the week.  Regardless of the amount of food they donate, their efforts have already made an impact.

Back to the food for a minute.  I just got a text message saying they have already started filling their SECOND box of goodies.  Yahooooo!!

Now that I’ve been reminded that I’m not alone in this, I’m asking for help.  Obviously, I want folks to continue to donate directly to food pantries using the Safe Staple bag tag and sign, but there is more we can do. Here are some of the dreams I have for this program, and since my only qualification for the job is desire, I’m hoping someone may want to help:

1.  Has anyone ever started a non-profit?  I was hoping it wouldn’t be necessary, that I would just be able to partner with an existing organization, but I realize I’ll need to do this in order for the program to grow.  I’d love to be able to be able to offer more direct help to families as well as the ability for companies and individuals to donate online. Any direction toward resources is appreciated.

2.  Does anyone know someone who works at one of the larger organizations like Feeding America or the Greater Chicago Food Depository?  I’m looking to learn more about the architecture of the food pantry supply system and how we work from the top down.

3. I want to setup a way for people to donate online, particularly by the holidays. Without an official non-profit status, another organization would have to partner with us.  Any ideas are welcome.

4.  I’d love to match make special diet families over the holidays. Personally, if I’m making a mess in the kitchen anyway, it’s not hard to make an extra safe dessert to share.  Perhaps some support groups or smaller communities can do this.

5. Partner with food companies so they can donate directly and provide coupons on our fb page and to those planning to do a food drive.  Who works for a food company like this?  Come on, this could be great for all of us.  I love to brag about community-minded companies!

6. Coupon Connection-any specialty couponing sites want to partner up so folks can donate more?

7. More food drives. Our first food drive in December of 2011 brought in almost $500 in addition to two big boxes of food from one small email and a facebook post.  I’d love to see Safe Staple food drives at every community fundraising walk and benefit that our groups have.  I’ll have the tool kit posted later this week.

If you have any ideas or can introduce me to someone who can help with any of the above, please send an email to

There’s more to this story, but I’d say we’ve been here long enough today.  A huge ginormous thank you to everyone at Bright Horizons Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.  Thanks for being open and generous and rising to the Great Kindness Challenge in so many ways!

P.S By the way, this particular Bright Horizons Child Care Center is about to open up to enrollment outside of Sears’ employees.  If you need childcare in the area, I highly recommend checking it out.  I’ve been a fan of their centers for a long time.  My godson and his brothers go to a different location so I’ve been many times and each time, it makes me want to be a kid again and belong to a community like this.  Seriously, it’s an awesome place! As a food allergy parent, I get a little giddy when I see each room with a cabinet clearly marked with an Epi-pen sign and the child’s picture who needs it. Add a menu and a constantly-updated ingredient binder posted at the entrance of the kitchen and I’m over the moon.


Safe Staples for Food Pantry Guests on Special Diets

For those of you already shopping for someone with a medical condition such as celiac disease, food allergies, galactosemia or on the autism spectrum you are probably here because you feel the value of the special diet community in your life.  Let’s reach out to include those in our community who are relying on food pantry assistance.  Next time you’re shopping, just grab an extra peanut-free sunflower seed spread or rice milk or gluten free flour mix or whatever other specialty item you rely on.  Think of what matters in your own kitchen, and we’ll help you get your favorite Safe Staples into the kitchen of someone who really needs them.  It’s easy, I promise.  And it will matter so much.

The Safe Staples program is designed to provide food pantry guests on a special or restricted diet, the alternative food staples their diets require. There is so much room for this program to grow,  but let’s start simple.  This process helps you donate allergy-friendly/gluten free staples to any food pantry or in any food drive bin, without fear of the specialty items getting lost among the other donations, ensuring food pantry guests with food allergies, celiac disease and other medical conditions get the safe staples they need.

1.  Shop for allergy-friendly or gluten free alternatives just like you would for a traditional food drive.  Don’t worry about the size of your donation.  Every bit helps. Our facebook page will have suggestions if you are unfamiliar. *If you are a specialty food company, welcome!  Let’s talk. ( This could be awesome.

2.  Print out these two sheets; the Safe Staples Bag Tag and Sign for Pantry.  Page one is a note to the food pantry staff explaining your donation and asking it to be put aside for guests on special diets. Since many guests would never expect these products to be at a food pantry, many won’t self-identify.  Page two is a sign for the pantry to post so families will know these specialty products are available upon request.

3.  Securely attach the two sheets to your bagged or boxed donation.

4.  Drop it off at any food drive or directly at the pantry itself.

Please help get the word out.  Visit our Facebook page,  “Like” it and “Share” it  with friends and familiy or forward this post to family and friends. These two things are very important as they keep you in the loop down the road.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading. If you haven’t read my thoughts behind this cause, you can read it here. I promise you, this will make a big difference in the lives of those guests with food allergies, celiac disease, and other medical conditions requiring special diets.

More than Food. Drum Roll Please….

I’m so excited to share something that has been brewing in my head for months now.  Without further ado, let me introduce you to Safe Staples for Food Pantry Guests on Special Diets.   If you’ve already read this post, hop straight over to the instructions page.

safe staples for food pantry guests on special diets, food allergies, celiac disease

It’s a very simple way to get gluten free and allergy-friendly foods into food pantries and into the hands of those who need them. Regardless of your connection to the celiac, food allergy or special diet community, I really hope you’ll take a moment to learn more about why this is such an important cause. At the end of the post, I’ll explain the extremely simple way you can help.  But first, here’s a bit of why I felt compelled to start this program.

The route to preschool takes us past the Township Office which houses the food pantry.  Everyday I passed a sign listing the pantry’s current needs.  Half singing along to the radio, half chit-chatting with my son, I barely noticed the sign the first couple weeks of school.  One day it just registered and my heart sank.  It was a sobering reminder that even in this nice, well-kept community, folks were hurting. I was grateful that my new community was reaching out, but it struck me. I have celiac disease and my son has life-threatening food allergies, which means that my pantry “staples” look very different from most others’.  If my family was ever in need of food pantry assistance, it would be unlikely we’d find food there that was safe for me and my son.  How do families like mine get fed in their time of need?

My thoughts snowballed and while the main concern is the physical reality of being fed, I kept going back to the emotional component of living on a special diet and what that might mean to someone seeking help from a food pantry also living on a special diet.

My diagnosis of celiac disease was just a few short months before my new baby’s reaction to touching peanut butter led to his diagnosis of food allergies. In the midst of life and work and family, I suddenly had to figure out how to keep our little world gluten, peanut, tree nut and egg free.  It’s a frightening realization that food can harm you, that it can kill you or someone you love. It’s hard to sleep at first, because you don’t know where to start or where to stop. Every single thing we eat needs to researched.  What are the ingredients?  What did those ingredients touch?  Was it cut on a clean cutting board? Made in a clean pan?  I’d nervously manage to put together a safe meal just in time to have to start all over again a couple of hours later.   I was aching for knowledge and good food and recipes and muscle memory in my kitchen again.  Armed with a positive attitude, a fully-engaged husband, the luxury of a fullish wallet and unlimited internet access, I slowly found those things.  Five years later, I am a happy advocate for the celiac and food allergy communities myself, but I constantly work hard to manage the emotional side of our diagnoses.

I was always a legendary dining companion and relished local, hole-in-the-wall type joints.  The dawn of facebook proved so when I reconnected with old friends and dozens – yes dozens – of them said, “Hey, Bridget!  Good to see you! Do you still love to eat?”  Each friend request instantly brought to mind the food we shared together years ago, for me and for them.

Shortly after our new food adventure started, I remember noticing the insane number of restaurant billboards I passed. Compounded by the number of glorious Chicago eating establishments I lived among, I thought, “My gosh, they’re not speaking to me anymore”.  It felt like the world wasn’t speaking to me anymore; that somehow, I was no longer invited. I was so uncomfortable requiring so much information from those who offered food that I sometimes felt like I was listening to a stranger.

My life quickly went from “yes, please” to “no, thank you”.

Being on special diet is like anything in life. Its position of importance fluctuates.  And I always feel lucky that of all of the possible problems, we have ones with a simple solution. There are a million other things that are worse. The vast majority of time, I live by the “cans” instead of the “cannots” and our diets stay in perspective. The food we can or can’t eat is just a tiny speck of our lives.  But when I’m sick or or vulnerable or worried about other things, the inability to freely eat gets bigger.  Choice is a powerful thing.  Eating the special plate you brought while everyone else has full choice around you can plant seeds of doubt. Even in places that feel like home, you can feel on the fringe, not quite included and, if you’re not careful to combat this thought, unworthy.

Special diets require diligent planning.  Which, frankly, gets super boring.  Even if someone wants to make us a nice meal, I’m still the boss of it.  I have to be head chef and research analyst, even if I’m not in the kitchen.  As a food allergy parent, food surprises are scary.  I’m constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the food my son will encounter so he can enjoy something comparable, as well as avoid any dangerous situations. The predictability and lack of “safe surprises” wears on me sometimes.  I find myself cranky and I realize it’s because that wonder and excitement I had for food is buried. I have to watch that I stop that feeling from bleeding into other areas of my life.

On the flip side, when I find a new product or someone sends me a link to a new restaurant, that hope and wonder and excitement come right on back like they’ve never been gone. That familiar lightness is contagious and my senses quickly get back to the business of being inspired.

When my mom found gluten free pasta that worked well in Grandma’s Casey’s famous spaghetti, I felt the comfort I had been missing.

When I mastered that long-beloved apple skillet cake without gluten, peanuts, tree nuts or eggs, my hesitant mouth fully relaxed and let out a ChristmasMorningSantaCame squeal! My feet followed in the celebration, jumping up and down in our little 3rd floor kitchen. Sorry downstairs neighbor, but I had to dance!  I felt like anything at all in the world was possible!  If our kitchen was any bigger I would have spun and sung “The Hills are Alive”.  Not even exaggerating. It felt that good.

When, five years ago, that woman and her two kids stopped me in Whole Foods as the the tears welled up in my eyes out of confusion and fear, I felt kindness like I have never felt before.  When I recognize that look in the aisles now, I feel purpose and connection. I say goodbye with pride that I’ve helped someone feel less alone, more empowered.

When someone surprises my son with a treat they’ve seen me give him before, or bakes something and saves the empty ingredient boxes, I can’t deny that even if they do come in a different (yet clearly-labeled) package than most, we are absolutely welcome to and are continually receiving life’s gifts.

I think it’s safe to say that food pantry guests are at a vulnerable point in their lives.  In the midst of rebuilding, feeling hopeful and comforted and worthy matter.  Being fed matters.  Feeling safe matters.  For a food pantry guest on a special diet, safe alternative pantry staples mean they can adapt their family recipes to include those they love.  They can celebrate their child with birthday cake. They can share community through food.  Safe Staples in the food pantry mean the power of choice is once again, in their hands. Safe Staples will nourish more than just their bellies.

So let’s reach out to food pantry guests on special diets. Let’s take one worry of of their plates and fill it instead with good, safe food.

Are you with me?  I promise, it’s simple and quick.  Follow me to the instruction page, and spread the word.