Talking Teal Pumpkins with the Mom Who Started It All

BeckyBasaloneThe Teal Pumpkin Project is now a nationwide movement, but it started with one mom and her support group in Tennessee. Becky Basalone, leader of the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET), had an idea to use a teal pumpkin to start a conversation about food allergies two years ago, and local families quickly embraced the tradition of handing out non-food treats to support kids with food allergies.

In 2014, FARE partnered with Becky to take her idea to the masses, amplifying her idea for how we can make Halloween more inclusive for kids with food allergies. We are thrilled to use our national platform and resources to support and organize this campaign.

To tell you more about the origins of the Teal Pumpkin Project, here is FARE’s interview with Becky, the mom who started it all:

Tell us about yourself and your family.

My family lives in East Tennessee and we have always been very involved in our local community. We are truly blessed to have an extremely supportive network of family members and friends. In 2012, testing revealed that my youngest son’s health condition was failing due to food allergies and anaphylaxis. He was first diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies to cow's milk, peanut, all tree nuts, shellfish, cinnamon and apple, and intolerances to several food preservatives. He has since outgrown his cow's milk allergy.

As an infant, my oldest son (now age 7) had issues with cow's milk and other foods but was never diagnosed with a true allergy. It is believed now that he has outgrown FPIES and has the current diagnosis of milk intolerance. I, too, have life-threatening food allergies to tree nuts and several members of my extended family also manage food allergies.

[caption id="attachment_1157" align="aligncenter" width="563"]porch2 Becky's two sons pose with their "Tricks" and "Treats" bowls[/caption]

Tell us about how you came up with the idea to paint a pumpkin teal and use it to signify that non-food treats were available at homes in support of kids with food allergies.

My youngest son, age 2 at the time, was diagnosed with multiple life-threatening food allergies in 2012. To connect more with local families, I started a food allergy support group, the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee – more commonly known in our area as FACET.

Our small support group attended an Allergy-Friendly Trunk or Treat sponsored by our allergist and my family painted a teal pumpkin as part of our trunk décor.

We passed out non-food items and contact cards for FACET. Afterwards, my oldest son, age 5 then, placed the pumpkin on our front porch and we were prepared to pass out the same treats to our neighborhood trick-or-treaters. We provided the option to choose from a bowl of candy treats or a bowl of safe “tricks" for those that visited our home ... and we met several other families managing food allergies in our area.

The kids loved having the opportunity to choose a safe trick or treat.

This became a Halloween tradition for our family to provide both - and my sons believed that this made sense because the neighborhood visitors always ask "Trick or Treat" at the door. Our “trick” bowl contained an assortment of items like spider rings, googley-eye glasses, crayons, coloring sheets, slime, boxes of Band-Aids, stickers, wind-up toys, matchbox cars, hair accessories, eye patches, glow sticks, etc.

FACET had grown to approximately 50 families by 2013 and we were a FARE-recognized support group when we decided to launch a program we called “Food Allergy Awareness Pumpkins” through our local support group efforts.  Amanda Painter and I made flyers and posters encouraging participants to paint a pumpkin teal or hang a sign on the door indicating that non-food treats are also available.

We made sure to educate about the need to keep the candy separate to avoid cross-contact. This would allow children with food allergies and other dietary restrictions to safely participate in the fun of traditional trick-or-treating on Halloween.

We did not wish to exclude candy, but instead wanted to add another option of a safe alternative to be available.

My friend and fellow support group leader, Jennifer Addington, of the Northeast Georgia Food Allergy Support Group shared our Facebook post on Twitter and it took off on both social media sites. This caught the attention of other support group leaders and FARE's leadership team. We are so appreciative of FARE and an amazing network of support groups across the nation in helping to promote this project this year.

As a local support group leader, you typically focus on food allergies in your city and state – how does it feel to have this idea spread nationwide?

I absolutely LOVE that the Teal Pumpkin Project has been welcomed as a new tradition for families across the nation.

As a parent, I pray that my actions have a positive impact on my children but I had never imagined that this act of love would reach so far and impact so many.

It is definitely accomplishing its mission of raising awareness and it has united the food allergy community to stand strong in support of our children.

When was the first moment that you realized just how big the Teal Pumpkin Project had gotten? Why do you think it caught on like it has?

As soon as FARE released the Teal Pumpkin Project on their website, we received such wonderful feedback from parents in every state. It was amazing to see how excited advocates and parents were to spread the news about the project and rally local communities to get involved. If I were to pinpoint an actual moment that made me realize just how significant this project had become, it would be when CNN provided coverage of the Teal Pumpkin Project and stated that FARE’s first Facebook post reached 2.7 million people in less than 72 hours. To reach that many people so quickly was absolutely amazing for food allergy awareness!

I think it has caught on so quickly because families managing food allergies need to feel more of a positive connection to others in their communities. As a support group leader, I know that so many families are in great need of support, especially when dealing with the anxiety that comes with wanting your child to experience childhood without fear of social implications or health risks.

I think that the general public is eager to participate because most realize that this is a simple compassionate act that can make a huge difference to a child.

This is just a fun project to safely include each child, get everyone involved and begin the conversation about food allergies in a positive way.

It is awesome to think that a teal pumpkin on a porch (or a sign on the door) may unite a few neighboring families, help build a support network between parents, and create a feeling of inclusion for a child with food allergies.

Thank you for taking the time to highlight and promote our awareness efforts. It is amazing how far this project has reached.

What is FACET and what is FACET’s mission?

FACET is the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee, a nonprofit organization and community support group for those newly diagnosed, affected by, or experienced with food allergies.

Our mission is to improve the social aspect of food allergy through support, education, and advocacy as a group of individuals and families affected by food allergies and anaphylaxis. We recognize the need to raise public awareness of food allergy in our community, public institutions and restaurants.

On behalf of FARE and families across the country - thank you, Becky! You can learn more about the Teal Pumpkin Project on the FARE website, and check out our map to see how far the idea has spread!