“Shocked” is how 52-year old Rose Ladwig describes finding out that she has celiac disease.
“I was not sick as a child but suddenly, in 2017, I began having diarrhea and vomiting,” she remembers. “I thought it was the flu.”
She was at a medical appointment in her home town of Nevada, Missouri when she almost passed out. They sent her to the Nevada Regional Hospital. After an endoscopy, colonoscopy, and a biopsy (medical tests) on her stomach she found out the cause of her sudden illness – celiac disease.
“I learned that the only treatment is a gluten-free diet and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve been eating processed food all my life and suddenly I have to change?’” she says.
This wasn’t the only shock. Rose, who is disabled and receives disability and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, discovered the high cost of gluten-free items when she went to restock her shelves. This made it difficult for her to pay her other bills.
She is not alone in suffering from the high cost of gluten-free food.
According to a study published in 2019, Persistent Economic Burden of the Gluten Free Diet, “gluten-free products were more expensive (overall 183%), . . . in all regions and venues studied.”
Fortunately, one of Rose’s therapists told her about a gluten-free food pantry in Kansas City that she had heard about on the news. That pantry was run by Food Equality Initiative.
“I looked it up and called Emily,” Rose says. After her doctor sent her diagnosis to FEI, Rose was able to visit the pantry for the first time in 2018.
“I was so glad Emily started it!” Rose says. “It was amazing to have a pantry for people like me – at the regular pantry there was hardly anything I could eat.”
Thanks to FEI, Rose says she can now stretch her food stamps to the end of the month and not use the money she had allocated for other living expenses to buy food. She estimates that she gets 50% of the food she eats from FEI.
Although Rose was thankful for the pantry, it was sometimes difficult for her to travel the 200-mile round trip from Nevada to Kansas City.
Rose Ladwig says that FEI’s new delivery service, piloted in 2020, is “a God-send” and has made a huge difference.
The food she needs is now delivered to her door. This saves on gas money, plus wear and tear on her car.
Rose has also discovered some delicious new foods through FEI – such as Mama Resch’s Brownie Mix and the Enjoy Life Breakfast Ovals. She especially likes the gluten-free breads and pancake mixes; and she’s looking forward to trying the new crepe mix.
“It feels wonderful to know that someone (FEI) knows what we go through and they are there to help us out,” she says.
Seeing isn’t always believing.
While Rose is adept at finding the silver lining in her diagnosis, she wishes others would be more understanding. A former Hallmark retail merchandiser for Walmart, Rose left the workforce in 2016 because of mobility issues. She’s glad she doesn’t have to explain to her colleagues why she would have to bring her own food to company dinners. But, even her family has a hard time understanding.
“When the holidays come around I know I can eat the turkey and mashed potatoes, but not the gravy,” she says. “It’s difficult, but we manage.”
Her grandchildren are not convinced. Her 14-year old grandson says he feels sorry for her because she can’t have cake for her birthday.
“At first it hurt to hear him say it, but now I just bring ice cream or something I can eat to the party,” she says. “And when he tells me he feels bad for me, I tell him I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
Rose says it’s not surprising that her two daughters and their children have difficulty understanding her new diet. None of them have food allergies.
To encourage more understanding, she suggests:
- Take your family with you when you go shopping or to a food pantry to show them how hard it is to find food.
- Take them with you to doctor’s appointments so that they can learn about celiac or food allergies.
- Introduce them to FEI and its resources.
“Your family needs your support,” Rose Ladwig says. “It’s new for them, too.”