Food Pantry Makes Special Diets More Accessible

Food Equality Initiative leads the movement of helping low-income individuals with food allergies and Celiac disease

The main barrier to improved health outcomes for low-income individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease is access to affordable, safe food alternatives.

Gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods cost 200-400% more than their gluten- and allergy-containing counterparts, and 50-75% of the foods offered in a food pantry contain gluten, wheat, dairy or nuts. Additionally, inner city children have a higher rate of food allergy incidence (10%), than their middle-class peers (8%), but are less able to afford the special foods, according to a recent research by Dr. Robert A. Wood of Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

Federal food assistance programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infant & Children (WIC), in addition to traditional food pantries, do not address the needs of families impacted by food allergies and celiac disease. This often leaves families with a choice between hunger and health.

In an effort to meet that need, Amy Goode and Emily Brown, two mothers who met at a food-allergy support group, launched the Food Equality Initiative (FEI). FEI, a public health organization partially funded by United Way of Greater Kansas City, aims to make safe food more accessible to those in need. The program works to support the low-income food allergy and Celiac communities by providing safe food, nutrition education and advocacy. 

“If you’re diagnosed with food allergies or Celiac disease, having access to the right foods is really the only way you manage the condition,” Emily said. “If families are struggling with putting regular food on the table, how then do they afford specialty items needed to manage that condition?”  

In 2015, Amy and Emily opened ReNewed Health, the nation’s very first allergy-friendly food pantry. In a year alone, the organization distributed more than 10,000 food items, at a total retail value of more than $40,000. 

Since then, they have been at the forefront of a movement to call attention to the challenges of low-income individuals with food allergies and Celiac disease, presenting at national conferences and advocating for the inclusion of more allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods in SNAP and WIC programs. 

As of 2018, FEI has helped pass four pieces of state legislation between Kansas and Missouri to help address the pervasiveness of food allergies, and they have grown to two pantries after opening one across state line in Kansas.

Now, pantries across the United States are following FEI’s model of providing allergy-friendly foods to those in need.