June 15, 2021
To the Editor:
I’m writing in response to the article published on Friday, June 11, 2021 “For some, food allergies complicate food insecurity” written by Associated Press reporter Kathleen Ronayne. The article described the challenges faced by people who rely on local food pantries, but who also have medical conditions such as food allergies and food intolerances. The article’s conclusion: most charitable and government food programs offer limited options to people who need gluten-free products or must avoid nuts, dairy or other allergens. The article also pointed out that while some federal programs will support purchase of specialty products, they can be very expensive. Finally, the article noted that in addressing COVID-19, many food shelves turned to contactless models “where clients drive up and take a pre-made bag of food” providing no choice at all.
Fortunately, the Upper Valley Haven Food Shelf located in White River Junction is an exception to these challenging and unsatisfactory conditions. First, we do not limit choice. Even though we are using a curb-side pickup model for safety in response to the pandemic, all of our customers are able to order exactly the food they want from our daily selections of fresh produce, dairy, proteins and shelf-stable products. And we are very aware of the importance of understanding dietary restrictions. When customers arrive, a staff member or volunteer will ask if they have any allergies or other dietary considerations. We also ask if there is anything else we would want to know when we collect their groceries such as if there are foods that are difficult for them to eat. Our staff and volunteers are well-trained, experienced and knowledgeable to help address all concerns and questions.
Examples of the broad array of gluten-free products we provide include bread, rolls, pasta, granola bars, pizza crust, cereals, pie mixes and meat. We have many dairy-free choices including milk, yoghurt, and macaroni & cheese. We have addressed peanut allergies, multiple sensitivity allergies, chemical-free diets, and egg free diets. We have worked patients who arrive with lists of diet-approved foods that we can fill. During the summer, we can even walk around our campus with a cancer patient who can pick fresh, organic produce from our vegetable gardens and eat healthy.
We’re constantly working on ways to improve the customer service and expand our offerings to meet all needs. We are grateful for the support we receive from many sources including the Vermont Foodbank, Willing Hands, many grocery stores and food purveyors, and the thousands of people who support the Haven with donations of food and cash contributions. As Ms. Ronayne noted, there remains a lot to learn about the overlap of people who are food insecure and have dietary restrictions. Hopefully, in the future there will be wider understanding and support for these needs. In the meantime, the Haven will continue its work in support of our customers and the community.