Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Why Food Allergies and Church Don't Mix
I've found that the church is one of the most difficult places to navigate with our food allergic family. It's so frustrating to us. We want to be involved and be a part of our faith community. But our food allergies severely limit the number of activities and functions that we attend.
We've even found some churches to be unable to accommodate our family. When this happens, I'm sad and discouraged. Some staff are inconvenienced by our needs. Rather than find ways to allow us to participate, they are rigid in their policies and unwilling to make changes to welcome our family. This can be very hurtful and while we try not to take it personally, we do feel isolated at times. The very place that should be accepting of our medical needs, the church, is the one place where we are not welcome.
What makes a church an unfriendly allergy place?
Most churches serve coffee and donuts or other morning foods such as muffins. When you are bombarded with breakfast foods at every turn, it becomes frustrating and scary. Trying to walk through halls or pass through common areas where everyone has plates piled high with unsafe foods is a nightmare.
Some churches allow food in the sanctuary. In some churches, the members sip their coffee and snack on donuts in their seats as they listen to the sermon. This means that it is unsafe to sit on the pews or chairs at church. We sometimes have to bring blankets to cover our seating area to minimize the risk to our children.
Some churches have multiple buildings and the children are far removed from parents. In these situations, it would take a long time for me to navigate the large campus to get to my child in the event of an emergency. It also makes it difficult to communicate with those who are caring for our children and makes it impossible for us to check on them without missing the Bible study for adults.
Most children's programs serve snacks. This means that I can't leave my kids in any of the rooms safely because they are contaminated. Because snack time is such an ingrained notion in most church programs, the thought of changing the normal snack or doing away with the snack completely is met with much resistance. With the unwilling attitude to make changes to the snack policy, it means that my child cannot attend.
Most staff members are uneducated about food allergies and emergency protocol. Because the teachers and staff do not understand food allergies, I am unable to safely leave my children. Often, the staff has no plan in place to accommodate children with any type of special need and I'm left with a child who has no classroom to attend and who feels completely isolated and left out.
Many staff members underestimate the severity of the allergies or don't take the risk seriously. I've had many members tell me that they'll just serve my child a different snack while still serving the unsafe snack to the rest of the kids. They don't understand that just being in the room with the food can cause a problem. Some even believe that a little bit of the allergic food won't be a problem and have not followed my snack instructions for my children. This results in allergic reactions for my kids.
Most church functions revolve around food. The Sunday night fellowships often include a dessert get together after the service. Wednesdays nights often begin with a church wide meal. Special events are centered around the food, the candy, the ice cream, or the desserts. Sometimes the Bible studies are even potluck-style with everyone bringing their favorite snack food. When it comes to church events, the food is inescapable.
Many churches are changing their format to include small groups in people's homes. These always include food. For an allergic child, going to another person's home is often very unsafe. There could be residue of allergic foods throughout the house or the owners could have pets that cause allergy issues. Moving the church functions into homes of church members that are not aware of the allergies creates a scary environment that can be dangerous.
All of these situations create a problem for food allergic families. Because there is a general lack of awareness and sometimes no allergy policy in place, churches are often very unsafe. This means that there are times when we cannot attend church or must visit multiple churches to be able to find one where we can safely attend. We want to worship with those who share our faith and not be limited by the medical conditions of our children. At some churches, it's just not possible.