Food allergies are on the rise—1 in 13 children in the U.S. are affected by some sort of food allergy, many of them life-threatening. In school settings, that translates to an average of two children with food allergies in every classroom.

Two Wilton moms are leading a local effort to raise awareness and help children who face each day knowing that a bite or touch of a particular food could send them to the hospital, or worse.

FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), the leading nonprofit organization focused on the 15 million people with food allergies in the US., is holding a fundraising walk for the CT chapter on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Sherwood Island in Westport. This year, Wilton resident Jenny Andjelkovic is chairing the walk for the second year in a row, and Jessie Adams is spearheading the Wilton Warriors team. They both hope to recruit more walkers and members of the Wilton team as well as get more information out to the community.

We asked each of them to tell us why they’re walking and to explain just how important awareness, research and outreach work done by FARE is.

Jessie’s Story

My 8-year-old son, Oliver, is one of the 15 million Americans living with food allergies. Neither my husband or myself have food allergies, and when we had our first child, Peter, food allergies were not a topic that crossed our minds frequently. I had friends who had kids with peanut allergies, but even then, it felt like a problem that happened to other people. We were given a little glimpse when Peter broke out in hives the first time he had milk-based formula when he was about 6 months old. We avoided dairy formula and by the time he was a year old, he had fully grown out of it and was happily drinking milk and eating all dairy products with no issues. We tucked the experience away and didn’t give it much more thought.

When we had our second son, Oliver, in 2008 we didn’t give him any formula at all. He was a thriving little baby, as cute as they come (he still is!). When he was about 4 months old, my sister was holding him on a hot summer day. She was eating ice-cream, and some dripped on his chest. Within minutes, Oliver’s little chest was covered in hives. It was similar to what had happened with our first child, but it was enough for me to seek the advice of an allergist. Fast forward about two years, and Oliver was diagnosed with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, lentils, peas, beef, pork, and lamb. He is now 8 years old and has grown out of his allergies to dairy and eggs. But he is highly allergic to all his remaining allergens.

It’s incredibly difficult as a parent to send your beloved child out into a world where food can kill him. I wish I could keep him at arms’ length forever. I send him on the school bus every morning and hope that the other kids on the bus did not eat peanut butter on toast that morning. And if they did, did they wash their hands before getting on the bus?

Oliver is in a nut-free classroom at school and he sits at the nut-free table at lunch. I wish from my deepest core that he did not have to be segregated like that. One day, he came home so upset because he had to sit alone at lunch—the other child at the nut-free table was out sick that day. My heart broke into a million pieces. Another day when he was in first grade, his class was watching a play in the cafeteria. His teacher noticed that his eye looked red and within minutes, it had swollen shut. The floor of the cafeteria had been cleaned after lunch, yet somehow, Oliver must have touched something on the floor where he was sitting that gave him a reaction. No parent should have to worry that their child might have a severe allergic reaction just by sitting somewhere at school.

oliver allergic reaction

But this IS a worry for many. Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children in the U.S. alone. And in the U.S. alone, food allergy reactions send someone to the ER every three minutes. These statistics are mind-boggling. FARE is working tirelessly to support the research and education of food allergies. And this is why my family will raise money and walk on Sept. 24 at Sherwood Island. Please join other Wilton families in our Wilton Warriors team and join us for a Family Fun Day as we raise awareness! Support our team with a donation and/or join our team and walk with us!

Jenny’s Story

I personally have two very important reasons to walk—my children Bella and Luka—they both have life-threatening nut allergies. Selfishly I want a cure so I can send them off to college and into the world on their own without the worry of a severe reaction.

But the truth is, we ALL have a reason to walk! Everyone should be extremely concerned that food allergies are steadily on the rise in our country and that new and different foods are regularly being added to the “common food allergens” list. It is a critical human epidemic and we ALL deserve to understand the reasons behind this rather new immune system issue. It affects everyone! I’m hoping that together on Sept. 24, not just for Bella and Luka, but for ALL of us—we will get walking to fund more research, to get educated, to create awareness, and to inspire change and find cures!

It’s so important to educate everyone about food allergies, especially because even I, a mom of a food allergic child, struggled to recognize the signs of a reaction and risked my daughter’s life. When my oldest daughter, Bella, was just 5 years old she ate a cookie that was mis-labeled. She had had two reactions prior to this one where she developed hives around her mouth and down her neck. But this time it was different—there weren’t any hives, and she didn’t complain about an itchy mouth. I thought she had a virus and worried she might infect her new, week-old baby sister so I tucked her in and quarantined her to her room! By the time I realized that her violent vomiting, sneezing and coughing was a reaction to walnuts and I ran to her with the epi-pen, she was barely breathing.

I shudder to think what would have happened had I thought of it even just a few seconds later. At that time I didn’t know that a reaction could change in severity and symptoms with each exposure.

That’s why I am walking on Sept. 24, to fund education and create awareness that can save lives!

Children every day with severe food allergies all over the United States are not carrying critical life-saving medication such as epi-pens because they can’t afford their medication or even a doctor’s appointment to get properly diagnosed in the first place. FARE does such important work funding research, evaluating prescription renewal protocols, working with drug companies to provide coupons, outfitting schools with epi-pen dispensers, and working on changing important policies such as equipping airlines to better handle food allergies.

All of this work is saving lives of the 1 in 13 children with food allergies in the U.S. every day. That means something to me . . . 2 out of 3 children in my own house have a severe life-threatening food allergy! I want to be sure that ALL children have access to life-saving information and medication.

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