At the beginning of 2020, the world had heard of the coronavirus, but it was a distant problem for us in the United States. The year held lots of promise, it was the beginning of a new decade, an election year, a census gathering year, a year claiming to have “perfect vision.” Suffice it to say that hardly ANYTHING went according to plan, but here at Food Equality Initiative, we had a pretty eventful year. We compiled this Year-in-Review article for you to know what all happened.
In January, Emily Brown, FEI’s founder, gave testimony in Houston for the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee is a group of nutrition scientists that do an extensive review of how food impacts different audiences. This Committee is sanctioned under the USDA and influences organizations such as national school lunches, SNAP, WIC, and other federal nutrition programs. In this meeting, they were reviewing a new age category of birth to 24 months and a new dietary pattern including that of food allergies.
Emily attended this conference to help ensure the dietary guidelines represented people with food allergies in all future guidelines this Committee would declare. The final results of this conference will not be released until January 2021.
In March 2020, Emily was invited to lobby in Washington, D.C. for the FASTER Act in the Courage at Congress event. The FASTER Act calls for the update of allergen labeling laws to include sesame and requires the federal government to analyze the most promising research opportunities in hopes of a cure for food allergies. Emily spoke to Emanuel Cleaver (a representative from Missouri) to encourage him to sign on for the bill.
*As of November 17th, the bill passed the House of Representatives. It now moves on to the Senate.
I don’t have to spend much time explaining what happened in March. Enter coronavirus. Everything shut down overnight and we had to immediately pivot our service structure, as did countless companies and organizations across the United States and the world. However, our pivot was already in the works; the coronavirus simply gave us an excellent opportunity to finally put it in action.
At the end of March, FEI closed all of our pantries in favor of a direct-to-door delivery service. Not only did this limit contact and potential exposure to COVID-19 but also it helped our clients preserve dignity in grocery shopping. The FEI team packaged these boxes ourselves, doing as many as possible with our limited resources. Then, we partnered with Knoq to deliver our boxes to FEI family members within the Kansas City metro area.
By May 2020, we decided packaging the boxes ourselves would not work in the long run. Our team is not large enough to sustain the level of labor required, so we partnered with Smart Warehousing for both storage of our inventory and packing of our boxes. This move positioned us to scale to nationwide delivery. Our first expansion was to New York City, where we partnered with End Allergies Together to serve people with food allergies during COVID-19. More expansions are still underway, so stay tuned for more developments.
Emily Brown’s open letter to the food allergy community in response to the tragic death of George Floyd illustrated her experience as a black mother raising black children with food allergies. Caring for multiple young ones with multiple food allergies put a significant burden on the family financially and when she turned to support groups for help, they said they were not suited to assist her. That is when Emily decided to found Food Equality Initiative.
The response to the open letter from the food allergy community was amazing. In almost every facet of American life, racism is present; but the food allergy community decided it was time to make a change. The team at Food Equality Initiative organized a series of webinars to discuss the racial and economic disparities in public health, particularly in regard to food allergies. We are striving to make a real difference, and education is the first step towards a more connected and equitable world. We pulled experts and leaders from all over the United States to join the conversation and offered the results free on our website for anyone who wants to listen. Through these conversations were able to reach over 1,000 people from all across the United States and the globe including nations such as Germany, Brazil, and the Philippines.
In addition to putting on these webinars, in 2020 the FEI team transitioned to a completely remote office. We are working from our homes across the Kansas City metro and even have some as “remote” as Dallas! This decision was not made lightly, but was agreed to be the most cost efficient, given the current state of the pandemic. That means we are able to put more of our budget into our mission, serving people like you.
We are continuing to expand our audience and home base through all the interviews Emily Brown makes across the (virtual) map. Just this fall her list of appearances includes, but is not limited to, FAACT’s Teal Love Shines Bright Food Allergy Summit 2020, Texas Children’s Hospital’s Food Allergy Symposium, Harvesters’ Hunger Free Healthcare Summit, and FARE’s Living Teal Global Summit.
One of her most exciting engagements has been as a guest on the Gooder podcast: The Unseen, Unheard and Misunderstood Naturals Consumer featuring Emily Brown. Another fun conversation was with former NFL Player and winner of Dancing with the Stars Rashad Jennings about food allergies and food insecurity. (We will provide a link as son as this is posted.
Finally, the last thing of 2020 was the Free-From Gala: A Giving Tuesday Non-Event. This year due to COVID-19 we decided to play it safe and not host an event in-person nor online. We were able to raise more than $7,000 during this event, all of which will go directly towards funding our mission.
Thanks for being an FEI family member in 2020. As you can see, a lot has happened and we are eagerly looking forward to what the new year has in store! Best wishes from FEI.