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Interview with Wendy Gordon Pake, Founder and Executive Director, FOODiversity

FOODiversity is a U.S.-based not-for-profit charitable organisation that aims to raise awareness, build health literacy, and increase food access with an aim to improve nutrition security and reduce allergy-related medical emergencies and hospitalisations.

A personal story

“FOODiversity began in June 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic and following the murder of George Floyd. It was then that Emily Brown, CEO of Attane Health and founder of Food Equality Initiative, wrote an open letter to the food allergy community challenging us to address the long held economic and racial disparities within the allergic disease space and in healthcare as a whole. In a webinar called “A Conversation about Race and Food Allergies” that accompanied Emily Brown’s open letter, Emily and her co-presenters described the challenges that underserved communities face in the diagnosis, management and treatment of food allergy.

During the entire webinar, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the resources that now exist that could maybe help improve some of these challenges. I also kept thinking back to 1996, when I first became a caregiver to a child with multiple food allergies, asthma, eczema, and eventually (2007) eosinophilic esophagitis. The barriers to care and resources that the presenters highlighted were so familiar to me.

As a 501c3 nonprofit, FOODiversity is a charitable organisation that receives funding from the public – individuals, corporations and other nonprofits. Our fundraising efforts are mostly focused on grant requests to corporations, community foundations and civic organisations. ”

Addressing the market gap

FOODiversity acts as a conduit for delivering nationwide resources to underserved community members grappling with food allergies, a demographic frequently neglected both as recipients of vital educational materials and within the realm of charitable food aid. By leveraging existing distribution networks within communities, FOODiversity effectively reaches its distinct customer base. Partnering with frontline organisations such as school nurses, healthcare facilities, college campuses, and community food pantries, FOODiversity identifies individuals experiencing food insecurity, food allergies, or both, ensuring targeted assistance reaches those in need.

After confirming eligibility, FOODiversity collaborates with Attane Health (AH) to utilise their Food Delivery Program platform. Through this six-month program, participants can place one AH order per month, selecting essential groceries tailored to their households. The platform allows filtering options by allergen(s), other health considerations, and cultural preferences. AH’s home delivery service addresses immediate food access needs and eliminates time and transportation constraints. Additionally, the Food Delivery Program incorporates an educational aspect.

FOODiversity Programs

During customer intake and in customer surveys, FOODiversity’s customers consistently report 3 top challenges:
1. The “cost of safe foods”
2. Limited availability of safe food in their local community, and
3. Understanding food packaging and ingredients labels to determine whether a food is safe for their household.

FOODiversity has tailored three solutions to help address these challenges:
1. Technical Assistance to Clients
2. Allergen-friendly Food Donations to Clients, and
3. Food Delivery Program to Customers.

Servicing food banks (‘pantries’) and school communities

FOODiversity offers a valuable resource to food pantries and schools by providing a compilation of food allergy organisations along with pertinent materials from each organization. We encourage our clients to utilise these resources, such as guides on reading labels and understanding ingredient lists, by displaying them in their food distribution areas.

Many food pantries and school systems rely on FOODiversity for technical support as they address the increasing demand for allergen-friendly foods within their organizations. In addition to offering technical assistance, FOODiversity occasionally contributes allergen-friendly and gluten-free products to aid them in better serving individuals with food allergies.

Education remains paramount in both preventing and addressing allergic reactions. Furthermore, disparities in access to crucial information, such as the USDA infant feeding guidelines advocating for early introduction of allergens, hinder health equity and may contribute to a rise in the prevalence of food allergies among children.

For further insight into FOODiversity’s initiatives and their potential alignment with broader efforts in the not-for-profit food allergy community, encompassing the Indo-Pacific region, we invite you to explore their website: Who We Are – FOODiversity