Step Up! Food Allergy Advocacy During Summer 2020
COVID-19 has moved advocacy efforts online, but there are many ways we can make a difference today and set the stage for future success.
Guest post by Teen Advisory Group member Annika Santhanam
Due to the sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, there has been a complete change to our normal lifestyles. We are now adapting to a new norm of social distancing and virtual communication, which has been challenging. Lockdown in many states has forced families to stay inside, causing normal activities to be put on hold, and sometimes food and basic supplies can only be purchased through online delivery systems.
This has been an issue for people across the nation, but it has been an especially daunting situation for those with food allergies. Instead of being able to carefully read ingredient labels at stores and frequently purchase known brands, families are forced to order alternatives to known brands online or face lack of availability of safe foods. But you might not realize another big impact of the lockdown is on advocacy efforts.
FARE’s Courage at Congress event on March 4 of this year was an inspiration for me, my family, and my sister. I was excited to meet my state’s legislators and gain more co-sponsors to support the FASTER (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education & Research) Act, a bill that will add sesame as the ninth labeled allergen and will increase research on a possible cure for food allergies. Advocacy for our cause was gaining traction, and we returned from Washington, D.C., ready to plunge into local advocacy, reach out to our legislative offices, and set up meetings to gain more support. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic brought everything to a halt. It has been three months since we’ve been in lockdown, and it seems that we’re starting to adjust. While we are all stuck at home, FARE is keeping up advocacy efforts through online webinars and other outreach efforts.
Personally, my sister and I had started an initiative in our school to spread awareness of food allergies, and despite the lockdown, we made a flyer with tips on how to handle the current situation and raised awareness by posting the flyer in our school’s weekly and on social media. Now that summer is here, it’s essential to continue advocacy efforts.
Here are some tips on how we plan to continue advocacy during the summer! If you find these tips helpful, please feel free to contact my sister and me (our contact information is at the end of the article) to get involved with some of our advocacy efforts.
Reaching Out Through Social Media
- Share information about food allergy awareness, recalls, labelling updates, or new updates from FARE’s website on your social media platforms.
- Make a flyer and post it to any websites, blogs or allergy forums where you contribute or participate.
- If you have cooking skills, make a fun, food-allergy friendly recipe and share it on YouTube or through other forms of social media to inspire others.
- Share emergency management videos on YouTube with tips and tricks on how to handle food allergies during emergencies like the current pandemic.
- Share resources like food allergy-friendly websites, stores and products that take orders for online delivery.
- Reach out to food-allergic friends and see how they’re doing. Offer help, whether it be giving them support platforms, finding safe foods, having a virtual birthday, or just being there as a friend.
Advocacy at the Local Level
- If you’ve already started an initiative, collaborate with your members and other food-allergic teens to hold a webinar.
- Keep the connection between your members and share experiences on how you’ve handled your food allergies, problems you’ve faced in this time, and solutions you’ve found.
- If you want to get started with advocacy, start by making online flyers and share them on social media outlets, with friends and with FARE.
- Plan ahead for when students start returning to school by planning to start a local initiative.
- Contact friends and peers that want to get involved to create a group or club.
- Talk to your principal once school is back in session to make your club official, then plan events and outreach to spread awareness.
- Outside of school, you can contact libraries to hold monthly meetings on advocacy in the future, once social distancing guidelines are lifted.
Advocacy at the Congressional Level
- Check FARE’s website for updates on new efforts. FARE is currently advocating for state and local school guidelines to keep students with food allergies safe as schools reopen after COVID-19. They are also trying to get more co-sponsors to pass the FASTER Act in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
- Sign up to become a FARE Advocate.
- Continue to call and write to your local officials to let them know the cause is worth supporting.
So step up! Make an impact, and continue advocating for the food allergy community! Contact Annika Santhanam or Anesha Santhanam through FARE's Teen Advisory Group to get involved with #GotYourBack, our food-allergy support initiative, and join in on our advocacy efforts throughout the summer.