Some of the most active voices in the food allergy community today are teenagers. When teens see an issue or inequality in society, we are often inspired to act in a way to fix this issue and improve the lives of the people that it affects.
This week, we’re highlighting the work of Securing Safe Food, an initiative founded and maintained 100% by teens.
What is Securing Safe Food?
Securing Safe Food is dedicated to increasing allergy-friendly options in public places. They are a registered nonprofit organization that works to:
To fight food insecurity among food-allergic individuals, and to increase the accessibility of allergen-free foods through research, education and community action.
We talked to Rachel Brooks, SSF’s Founder, and Sydney Hankin, a member of SSF’s team, to better understand how teens run the organization and deliver allergy-friendly products to food banks across the US.
A few questions about your food allergy community
What inspired you to get involved with Securing Safe Food?
Sydney: I became involved with Securing Safe Food after our founder, Rachel Brooks, proposed the organization on the FARE Teen Advisory Board.
Her vision: to create a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that would partner with allergy-friendly food manufacturers, ensuring that food pantries can supply allergen-free foods to food-allergic clients.
After reading the project’s tentative mission, I realized that affording allergy-safe and gluten-free items is a privilege. Food insecure individuals must face additional barriers accessing these more expensive, specialty foods.
I immediately joined the initiative and am so thrilled that I did so!
How do you choose what items to donate to food banks (and what are some examples)?
Rachel: We carefully curate items that we donate to our food pantries. For instance, we require that each partnering brand has a facility free of at least one of the top nine allergens recognized by the FDA. Or if not, it is certified gluten-free.
In particular, we prefer to donate items free from all nine (or more) of the top allergens. Or items that are alternatives for commonly “allergy-full” products. For example, egg-free mayonnaise, dairy-free cheese and beverages, gluten-free bread, or nut-free bars and seed butter.
We request manufacturing protocol and allergen information from each prospective partner brand. After our review and approval, this information is provided to food pantries.
What is your role as a member of Securing Safe Food?
Sydney: As a member of the Securing Safe Food team, I coordinate with both our partner brands and food pantries. I currently direct our internal development, organize our monthly newsletter and assist in spearheading upcoming initiatives.
In addition, I have been preparing to register our nonprofit for charity solicitation in other states.
How do you ensure that allergy-friendly foods are provided to the families who need them?
Rachel: All of our partner food pantries pledge to reserve our donations for clients with food allergies. We operate on a system of clear communication to ensure that our donations are getting to these clients.
For example, we label all donations with Securing Safe Food’s logo and mission statement to notify pantries which shipments and deliveries are from us.
We’ve also collected data on each pantry’s quantity of food-allergic clients, as well as the specific allergens they avoid. Data helps us so that we can tailor our donations accordingly.
In terms of getting the product to clients, each pantry’s method varies. Many store allergen-free donations on a designated “allergy-friendly” shelf. Other pantries alert clients when free-from products are in stock using an online system.
How do you designate which food banks/food pantries to partner with?
Sydney: We firmly believe that all food pantries, regardless of whether or not they currently have a food allergy system in place, should be able to accommodate food-allergic individuals. This means serving safe food that is also sufficient in both variety and nutrition.
As such, we welcome the opportunity to educate and collaborate with a pantry that may not have been previously knowledgeable about this issue. Although we also partner with food pantries who are already aware of and dedicated to food allergy safety.
S.S.F. does not have any geographical boundaries. We are open to working with food pantries across the US—and we already are!
We do require that our partner food pantries serve multiple food-allergic clients. Our donations are reserved solely for these individuals.
What are some goals or plans that Securing Safe Food has for the future?
Rachel: In the coming months, our main goal is to grow our Partner Program, by which a number of food manufacturers provide us with consistent, recurring donations.
Expanding this initiative would mean that we can be confident of regular donations including snacks, beverages, baking staples, and protein sources.
We can also invest more time into other endeavors, such as fundraising for direct, wholesale donation purchases from our allergy-friendly partners, researching the prevalence of food insecurity in the food-allergic community, and starting new advocacy efforts.
We’d love to push for improved food allergy accommodations and accessibility in university cafeterias or vending machines, for example.
While we will continue to prioritize food pantries’ food allergy accommodations, we plan to expand our organization’s reach. Our goal is to improve the future of food allergy safety outside the home, for both the food insecure and the food-allergic community as a whole.
More In the Community
Sophie is a sophomore in high school and our Teen Editor who lives with multiple food allergies . She created Food Allergy Alliance, a virtual allergy support group. She loves to bake and babysit. Sophie hopes you find the positive side of an allergic life.