Millions of Americans live with food allergies and the issue isn't discussed enough. The Buffalo Bills and Wegmans are doing their part to support food-insecure families with food allergies and special diet needs.
From May 9-21, Wegmans is hosting a food drive that will encourage shoppers in local Buffalo and Rochester stores to purchase specially selected items, that are either free from the Top 8 allergens or gluten-free. Once purchased, customers are encouraged to place the specially selected items into bins located at the front of the stores. All items collected will benefit FeedMore WNY (Buffalo) and Foodlink (Rochester).
This initiative hits close to home for Head Coach Sean McDermott and his family since his kids are impacted by food allergies.
"Prior to having children, I was not very aware or impacted firsthand by food allergies or nut allergies in particular," McDermott shared. "But once my two older kids were born, my first was born with a nut and tree nut allergy and my second was born with a sesame allergy. My oldest has a severe food allergy, we've experienced using an EpiPen firsthand when my daughter has foods that she's allergic to and it's not fun I can promise you that.
"And again, I think from an awareness standpoint when we go back to school, we need to be aware of these underlying conditions and in particular, these people who aren't affected need to be cautious of the kids in those rooms who are affected by it. These can be severe and, in some cases, deadly situations."
According to the CDC, 26 million adults and 1 in 13 children are affected by food allergies. These allergies can trigger a response in the body that can be as little as an upset stomach but can be as severe as hives and anaphylactic shock.
McDermott and his wife, Jamie, have had to get very familiar with the EpiPen and how to properly use it. With nut allergies, even a trace of it can set off the reaction.
"From a mother's perspective, I can tell you that it affects our family and families with food allergies, a great deal," Jamie McDermott shared. "There were difficult lessons learned over the years and as parents, there is rarely a time you're not thinking about this. Every meal whether it's at home, school, a friend's party, or a restaurant has to be carefully addressed."
Some of the specially selected items that can be donated are Wegmans Crispy Rice Cereal, Made Good Granola Bars, Wegmans Organic Gluten Free Chickpea Shells Pasta, Daiya Mac & Cheeze Deluxe Cheddar and so much more. For the full list of allergen-friendly products, click here.
Food-insecure families have a difficult time getting the proper nourishment they need for themselves and their children. The addition of food allergies makes the process so much more challenging. Unfortunately, for most families, food allergies aren't often thought about until a parent or child suffers from them.
"I was one of you, one of them years ago before my children were born, is that really real?" Coach McDermott said. "And I can tell you, it is real. And I can tell you on a first-hand basis, that my daughter in particular carries an EpiPen everywhere she goes so she's always prepared."
This joint initiative from the Bills and Wegmans is just the latest example of the positive impact they bring to the community and those in need.
"We are so very grateful for Wegmans and this partnership," Jamie McDermott said. "It means a lot to us because we know we are not the only family that is affected by food allergies. If we can help just one family by making it better or easier for them to shop or access safe foods for their families, it will be worth it!"
If you are looking for more food allergy resources, visit the FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) website.