FEI is now part of Brit's village.

It is a little before midnight on Saturday night. The kids are sleeping (in my bed, by the way, a habit still to break). Dishes sit in the sink, and I can’t remember the last time I changed the kitty litter (which means the cat is likely mad at me). But instead of worrying about tidying up, I wrap myself up in a blanket and sit down on the couch. My video streaming service is calling my name, but I open up my laptop to write this blog entry. I’m not writing because Food Equality Initiative (FEI) asked me to, but I write because I enjoy it. I still remember one of the first ‘books’ I wrote as a child. The story was a biography based on the morning of my 6th birthday when I awoke to find red bumps all over my face and body. I was perplexed (I don’t think I used that word at 6), but I do know my mom said something like, “Bart (my dad), call everyone and tell them the party is cancelled; Brit has the chicken pox.” I’m pretty sure I titled the book, “The Birthday Surprise.”

Over the years, the writing slowed down and eventually stopped once I married and had children. No particular reason for quitting; I just got busy with other things. In fact, I stopped doing a lot of things that I had previously enjoyed, such as volunteering, reading and exercising. I no longer made it a priority to visit with friends. I was happy, don’t get me wrong. But then, to my surprise, I ended up divorced. I was suddenly a ‘single-mom’. I still feel a little strange calling myself a ‘single-mom’, though, like I haven’t earned the title. My kids have a father, who is very much in the picture, and we both have stable careers. My parents also help out, but I still struggled. One thing I eventually realized was that I was missing my ‘village.’

My day-to-day was like many parents. It felt as if I had just closed my eyes each morning when my alarm would startle me at some ridiculously early time. Because I was not in a hurry to fight, bribe, yell and beg the kids to get ready for school, I would hit snooze a few times before finally swinging my legs out of bed. I also had to deal with the guilt when one of the kids would no doubt cry about wanting to stay home with me instead of going to daycare. It makes it worse when the daycare provider has to peel a child’s death grip off of you at drop-off. I struggled just to get through the day; I didn’t think I had time to take on anything or anyone else.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about not having enough time to take on more things, which ultimately, even improved my life. I started reading again, I joined a yoga studio, I made an effort to schedule lunches and happy hours with friends, and I took on gardening as a new hobby. Taking on these new passions actually energized me, my kids were happier, and I also realized I was really starting to build my ‘village.’ I had a group of people that I could count on for things. Maybe it was another family to spend an evening with, or a mom at school to help with pick-up, a co-worker to ask advice over lunch, or a friend to vent with at happy hour.

Part of my effort to build my ‘village’ has included having friends and family over for meals. While writing up a grocery list for one such get-together, my 6-year old asked me, “Does anyone have any allergies?” I love this about her. She is so thoughtful and inclusive of others. When my son was a newborn, we found out he could not have dairy, and because I was nursing him, it meant I could not have dairy. She witnessed our diet change first-hand. And if you know me, you know I love ice cream, so that was a tough habit to break (yes, I have found some decent non-dairy alternatives, but let’s be honest, they aren’t the same as the original). Suddenly, I found myself constantly discussing dairy and dairy alternatives. This wasn’t because I wanted to talk about it all the time, but I needed to confirm, and then confirm again, that we were not accidentally eating dairy, because it is easy to slip-up.

When I came across the FEI website looking for volunteer opportunities, I was intrigued by the fact that the pantry focused on the challenges of low-income individuals with food allergies and Celiac disease. I knew what a challenge it was to keep dairy out of our diet, and I couldn’t imagine having the added challenge of not having enough resources. I’m constantly amazed when I talk to the parents of children with multiple allergies and/or celiac or other illnesses that require a restricted diet. These parents often have to make everything from scratch in order to avoid certain allergens. They are constantly on guard and can’t even go to a picnic or any food event without preparing a meal ahead of time.

In 2015, FEI launched the nation’s first allergy-friendly and gluten-free pantry right here in Kansas City. This is a remarkable thing, and now seems like a perfect time to get this information out there for those who haven’t already heard. We are so excited to announce our partnership with RAYGUN Kansas City to unveil a special t-shirt, “Overachieving Immune System.” It is a fun way for the community to get involved with FEI and show support. We will be taking pre-orders for the shirt until September 10th, and the t-shirts will be available for pick-up on September 27that a t-shirt release party. Supporters can come by the store, sign up for door prizes (so far, we have a Donutology gift card and a pair of Snow Creek lift tickets), have a snack provided by Hillary’s Eat Well, and enjoy beer from Boulevard Brewery or wine from Out of Line. Most importantly, meet others who want to support the same efforts you do, and begin building or expanding your ‘village.’ You might just be surprised at what it could lead to. It is an honor to be a part of this fundraiser and community, and it is only happening because I made an effort to meet and help others and expand my own ‘village.’

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