Starting a Food Allergy Support Group

Gina Clowes Health Guide
  • When my oldest son was born 13 years ago, it was heaven to be home with him for the first few months before I returned to work.  But while I felt competent at my paid job, I had no idea what to do with this uncooperative little fellow who refused to nap. I quickly made friends with a few other newbie moms and we shared advice daily.  To this day, these women are some of my dearest friends.

    When my second son was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, I wanted the comfort of friends who had “been there, done that” or who could commiserate with me over my wheat-dairy-egg-peanut free birthday cake disasters. At the time, I didn’t know anyone who fit the bill, and with no local support group around, I decided to start my own.  I’ve always been so glad that I did. Any journey is more pleasant in the company of supportive friends.

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    If you have been considering starting a local food allergy support group , now is a great time. Your friends and family will always be there but your allergy mom (or dad) friends will “get” your trials and tribulations like no one else ever can.

    Here are a few tips to help you start or grow a local group:

    Who:   What type of group do you want to start?  Will you invite parents only? Will you have guest speakers:  physicians, psychologists, school nurses, teachers etc?  Don’t forget about the kids!  Consider hosting safe holiday parties or play dates where the allergic children can socialize. My son loves to get together with his buddy Grant, who also has multiple food allergies. It’s funny to listen to them give warnings about a candy or restaurant and it’s a joy to see them coping together.

    What: What will you discuss? Will you send out an agenda with featured topics? In my experience, allowing at least an hour for open questions and discussions is helpful, especially for parents of newly diagnosed children.

    Where: One fixed location or different ones?  Some leaders prefer to meet at restaurants so the parents can “cheat and eat” as Denise Bunning likes to say. It’s also important to publicize your meetings in doctor’s offices, schools, municipal centers etc.

    When: How often will you meet? You might want to experiment with monthly or bi-monthly, afternoon or evening. My local group meets Friday evenings when most of the husbands are back in town and there is no homework that needs to be done that evening.

    Why:   When you start a support group, you have to encourage new members to venture out of their homes. Remember “WIFM” What’s in it for me? We all have busy lives and most people will ask themselves this question before attending your meetings. Entice them with entertaining speakers, topics, samples, books etc.

    Some of your members will be interested in advocacy and fundraising, and it would be great for your group to work with the Food Allergy Initiative and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network .  These large food allergy non-profits are working on education, awareness, research and more and they can offer a multitude of ways to help our cause.

  • Finally, expect highs and lows in terms of attendance and participation. Most groups start out very small and grow gradually, but it’s all worth it in the end. You will get to know a wide variety of parents who will support you and become lifelong friends. Like them, you may not have chosen to become a member of this allergy club, but while you’re here, you might as well enjoy the company!

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Published On: March 15, 2010