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Feb/Mar 2014 Issue
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KFA’s disaster relief committee was ready to help when the powerful tornado carved a path of destruction through Moore and other Oklahoma City suburbs last May.
Cami Simunek felt numb as she watched the news in her home in Piedmont, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Grateful that the devastating twister had bypassed her house, the leader of the Oklahoma Food Allergy Support Group jumped on Facebook to connect with food allergy support group leaders throughout the country to mobilize assistance.
Within two days of the tornado, allergy-safe donations started arriving at the designated relief sites—a regional food bank and a local church. Pallets of food contained allergy-free cookies, gluten-free bread, infant formula and SunButter.
“The experience of everyone sending in food and messages was overwhelming,” Simunek says. “It was a wow moment for me.”
After safely sheltering underground at a local hospital with her family, including her food-allergic daughter, Oklahoma City resident Becky Matlack reached out to assist other families with special dietary needs.
Matlack and her friend Rachel McCarty set up and ran the pantry at the local church, accepting allergy-friendly food donations. They organized the food on tables according to food allergy. One area had gluten-free items and another had food free of the top eight allergens. Matlack even put her daughter Virginia’s service dog to work, having him sniff boxes to detect peanuts. Boxes of peanut-containing foods were placed in a separate location outside of the main pantry area.
“People started to trickle in, like being at a grocery store,” Simunek says. “They were so thrilled to know that they could eat safely for the next few days.”
At first, the biggest need was for meals that could be eaten without preparation. After the initial shock, Matlack says families needed to replace expensive flours, egg replacers and pastas so they could start making their own meals again.
“Since this type of food can be so expensive, a lot of families just didn’t see how they were going to replenish their supplies lost in the tornado,” she says.
“I let people go through and pick what they needed. You can’t just give people a box of food. That doesn’t work with food allergies,” Matlack says. “Having sweet things on hand that were free of the top eight allergens allowed children to have some normalcy back in their lives.”
Getting the word out that allergy-friendly food was available proved challenging. Information about where people could find donations was posted on social media sites, including local shelter Facebook pages, but not everyone had Internet access in the tornado’s wake.
So Matlack drove to command centers, churches organizing relief efforts and Red Cross and Salvation Army locations to hand out fliers. She also took several trips in her van to deliver allergy-friendly and gluten-free donations to neighboring towns that needed assistance.
Eventually, word made its way to Moody, who was thrilled to find gluten-free hamburger buns, bread, granola bars and pretzels, along with Go Picnic ready-to-eat meals, at the local church. She brought boxes of products to her interstitial cystitis support group meetings to help others who had lost their homes or who had no power.
Moody has vowed to put a process in place before the next tornado season. She was so focused on preparing snacks and water for her kids, that she neglected her own needs, she says.
“When you’re the only one in your family who has to live with restrictions, you can feel like you’re a burden, to the point that you would just rather not eat so everybody else can,” she says. “The pantry with gluten-free donations definitely brought me quality of life. For me, it was one of the biggest blessings.”