Mothers run allergy-friendly food pantry for families with special diets

“When my oldest daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, it really hit us in the pocketbook,” Emily Brown, the co-founder of Food Equality Initiative, told Nation Swell.

Food Equality Initiative, which runs ReNewed Health, an allergy-friendly food pantry in Kansas City, is the brainchild of Emily Brown and Amy Goode. The pair was prompted by their own struggles in finding affordable food for their children, who have severe allergies, to open the pantry. According to Brown, allergy-friendly and gluten-free food can be two to four times the cost of shopping for a regular diet.

“We realized there were a lot of people in the same boat as we were who couldn’t afford these foods,” said Goode.

Food Equality Initiative strives to create a safety net for low-income families who, on top of paying other bills, have the additional burden of budgeting for allergy-friendly foods. Often, federal assistance does not pay for these foods, making it hard for financially needy families to comply with the exorbitant cost of catering to a special diet.

The pantry serves clients who have one or more family members that are diagnosed with food allergies or celiac disease. In order to qualify, they must also demonstrate financial need.

Stocked by donations from food drives, manufacturers and the public, the pantry has distributed more than 12,350 pounds of allergy-friendly food since its inception in 2015.

Brown’s daughter was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Trips to the supermarket, where everything was expensive, and trips to the food pantry, where almost nothing fit her daughter’s diet, left her feeling frustrated.

“I work relentlessly to make sure that nobody in my city has to experience what I experienced,” said Brown.

“We would love to see our pantry model replicate all across the nation because we know this is a need that exists in every community, not just Kansas City,” said Brown.