The food allergy community is full of amazing individuals and organizations working to ensure that people with food allergies receive support whether it is medical, emotional, educational, or even that their basic needs are being met. That is why we are spotlighting the work Food Equality Initiative (FEI) has been doing since Shahla and Kortney first connected with them in a virtual food drive in December 2019.
What is Food Equality Initiative?
FEI is an allergy-friendly and gluten-free food pantry. They are a registered nonprofit organization with the mission:
To improve health and end hunger in individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease through access to safe and healthy food, nutrition education, and advocacy.
We spoke with Erin Martinez, FEI’s Director of Operations, to get a better idea of how food allergy folks get safe foods delivered to their homes.
5 Questions about your food allergy community
Who is eligible for an FEI box and how does someone sign up?
Individuals who screen positive for food insecurity and are diagnosed with food allergies, or celiac disease, or diet restricting condition such as FPIES and MCAS (Mast Cell Activation Syndrome).
Clients, or as we prefer to refer to them as family members, receive a referral from their physician – this can be done on our online referral platform.
The family members then register and set up their account. Once we approved, they can start shopping on the website. Generally, individuals receive orders once a month for the duration of one year. Each account is re-evaluated and if a need is still demonstrated then they continue services.
Does each person get a customized box?
Yes, each person gets a customized box. We provide them with a credit to use for our online shop. The family member then chooses what they want in their box. The shop allows people to search all the food items by category, brand and allergen. We also make use of our color-coded icons so that shopping can be quick, easy and above all safe.
How do you choose what items go into your boxes?
The items come from various sources. Often, we accept in-kind donations. These donations can be short-dated items. Or, sometimes a company changes packaging and for whatever reason, they need to clear out their inventory.
Another way that we receive our food is through wholesale purchasing with companies we have vetted and partnered with.
How do you vet the products to ensure they are safe for the food allergy community?
Initial research happens by searching the company’s website. After that, we typically meet with an individual or team at each company to learn about best practices for allergen and gluten-free facilities.
We also look for certifications and clear ingredients statements. All items sent are packaged foods and do not directly come into contact with allergens.
How do you send out the boxes to your family members?
If you can believe it, there was a time last year when my family and I hand-packed each and every box that went out. FEI grew so fast that my family and I just couldn’t keep up. So we partnered with a third-party logistics company.
The third-party logistics company does everything from serving as a warehouse to picking and packing the orders to being the FedEx pickup point.
Shop for items found in a FEI box
Listen to Emily Brown talk about why she started Food Equality Initiative on The Itch
Kortney is your typical atopic triad who manages asthma, eczema and multiple food allergies. Kortney is a co-creator of the online community Allergy Travels and co-host of The Itch Podcast. She wants to spread joy in a community that can easily see the hard side of life with atopic disease and believes that you can have a full life with food allergies, it may just be lived a little differently!