In a small orange pail fashioned in the likeness of a jack-o-lantern, candies and treats overflow with each passing hour. At first glance, the colorful array of wrapped candies and treats appear harmless. But for parents like Kristin Lunsford, who have children with food allergies, raking through pounds of sweets earned from a night of trick-or-treating can be a stressful and isolating process.Lunsford’s children, Jake and Abby, were both diagnosed with food allergies as infants, and she and her family have taken up the constant work of researching new meals, medical advancements and food allergy awareness events ever since.
“(Our children) both have food allergies and we always work to make sure our kids are able to participate in things (like trick-or-treating) just like the other kids do,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to watch your kids be excluded or unable to enjoy special treats at places like other kids do. The holidays can be so much fun for children so we try to make sure they get to experience that same joy and not be left out.”
It was for that reason, Lunsford said, that finding out about the Teal Pumpkin Project was so helpful.Created by awareness activities run by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee, the Teal Pumpkin Project was launched in 2014 as a national campaign by Food Allergy Research and Education to promote the inclusion and safety of children with food allergies during Halloween.The premise is simple: Neighbors pick up small, inexpensive toys or other non-food treats to hand out on Halloween, offer them in bowls or containers separate from food and candy and place either a pumpkin painted teal – the official color of food allergy awareness – or a printed sign outside of their homes to indicate to passersby that the home is “teal,” or food-allergy friendly.
Equipped with the knowledge of the project’s mission, Lunsford is now encouraging other families to help keep the holiday safe by painting Ponte Vedra teal. Seeking help among neighbors in the Plantation community, Lunsford is suggesting that residents make non-edible treats such as stickers, bracelets, glow sticks, markers and bouncy balls available throughout the night as an alternative. In addition, she suggested they also put out a separate container of candies that are allergen-friendly – treats like Dum Dums, Smarties, Starbursts, Skittles and Sour Patch Kids – so that children with food allergies can enjoy them. Lunsford has also offered to place a small teal pumpkin cutout in the yards of neighbors willing to participate.It’s a call many community members have been happy to answer, she said. The welcome response came as a relief to her and her husband, Brian, after the family’s recent move to Ponte Vedra from Atlanta.
“Within minutes of sending out the email about the Teal Pumpkin Project, we received dozens of responses from people wanting to participate,” she said, adding that she hopes the trial run of the project has a lasting impact on the community in the future.
For Lunsford, the importance of community awareness of food allergies can’t be ignored. According to The Teal Pumpkin Project, one in 13 kids has a food allergy – but many people aren’t aware of how many common allergens, such as wheat, nuts and dairy, are ingredients in food and candy commonly given out during Halloween. Likewise, candies packaged in large quantities often don’t have labels for parents to refer to in order to check their ingredients. And when even a small amount of an allergen can cause a severe or life-threatening reaction, she says every precaution needs to be taken.
“Even a tiny crumb could hurt our kids, especially when they’re so little,” she said. “It really does take a village (to help). A reaction can occur in an instant and without warning, so it’s important that not only parents but also the community helps keep people with life-threatening food allergies safe.”
With a promising show of support from the community, Lunsford is optimistic about efforts to inform others of the life-threatening allergies in her community in the future.
“I hope this raises awareness for food allergies -- not just at Halloween, but at all times,” she said. “I'm also hopeful that people think about all children and do a little extra throughout the year to make sure all kids are included and safe. It might seem like a small gesture, but it means the world to families with food allergies, and it could save a life.”
For more information about the Teal Pumpkin Project -- including what non-food treats are best for kids with different allergens, a “fever map” of participating homes and ways to spread awareness about the campaign -- visit the Teal Pumpkin Project website.