In most high schools and universities, homecoming weekend is all about football, dances, and parades. However, at Kutztown University this year, Salvator Rosato made it an occasion to raise awareness about food allergies and funds for FARE.
Sal and his friend Carly at the homecoming game
Sal recently had an allergic reaction while away at school, and was aided by his friend, Zach, who helped him quickly seek medical attention and stuck with him through the emergency. This incident inspired Sal to make and sell buttons that said “Be a PAL, Vote for Sal,” to raise awareness about food allergies and the components of FARE’s “Be a PAL: Protect a Life from Food Allergies” education program. Sal sold hundreds of buttons, and we asked him to tell us more about his fundraiser and inspiration:
- What are your food allergies? What’s it like having food allergies?
Currently, I only have a milk allergy. The smallest amount will trigger an attack for me. Cross-contact is a big issue for me. When I was younger, I was also allergic to eggs and soy but I outgrew them when I was 10 years old. I feel like being diagnosed with food allergies doesn’t make me different from other people. I just have to be more careful when eating food, especially at restaurants or places where I’m not familiar with the food choices. I go everywhere with back-up food in case I need it. The phrase “Sal Safe” is on many of my food containers.
Wherever I go, even at home, I have to make sure nothing has been in contact with milk products and I carry my medicine bag with me filled with epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamine everywhere. I’m lucky that my university, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, understands that my milk allergy is severe and helps me avoid dairy products in the cafeteria. Even my marching band professor makes sure there is “safe” food for me to eat when we are on the road.
- Tell us about your fundraiser for FARE. Why did you want to do it? Why was it was important to you?
I was graciously nominated by my peers for homecoming court at my university. I thought since I had a lot of the students’ attention on campus, I might as well use this opportunity in a positive way by raising money for a worthy cause. Many students and faculty were promoting awareness for breast cancer research since October is breast cancer awareness month. I wanted to do something different and that was a part of my life. I did an online search for “food allergy awareness” and then FARE’s website, foodallergy.org, was the first one that popped up in the search engine. I began to read all the research on your site and interesting facts about food allergies. I had no idea that 15 million people in the United States had food allergies and I thought I could make a difference.
I understood how food allergies affected me personally and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a severe milk allergy like me. Luckily when I was in high school, my mother was a band booster mom for my marching band. She would make buttons for the band and sporting activities to raise money for the band. I asked her if she wanted to relive her glory days and remake some buttons for my fundraiser. She agreed and helped me make about 250 buttons to sell. I started selling them during the week that students were voting for homecoming. The buttons said “Be a Pal, Vote for Sal”… I got the catchphrase from FARE’s Be a Pal campaign. People were able to obtain a button with a donation of one dollar or more. Some of my friends got one; some of my friends gave me enough donations to obtain 20 of them.
Many people came up to me and ask what FARE was all about and why food allergy awareness is such a concern. It gave me the opportunity to educate them about my personal experiences, talk about cross-contact, and explain the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy. Even some of my professors were interested and donated money to my cause. I raised just under $300 thanks to the help from my mom, dad and friends.
- Can you tell us more about your recent reaction, your “PAL” Zach, and how he helped?
I’m in the Kutztown University Marching Unit (band) and we were having a family dinner one night at the “Drum Line House” as we call it. We had the entire drum line and front ensemble at the apartment and we were going to eat a spaghetti and meatball dinner. Unfortunately for me, the spaghetti had butter on the noodles but the meatballs were milk-free. I made sure the meatballs had not been exposed to milk and they were using a clean spoon. I had about two meatballs and then just hung out with some friends at the apartment. About 30 minutes after eating, I noticed I was feeling a little sick, my ears were itching, and I was just getting tired, so I left and went back to my own apartment. I took an hour nap in my apartment and woke up around 10 p.m. When I woke up, I was covered with hives, beet red in color, and I was having difficulty breathing. I immediately used my epinephrine auto-injector and called my friend, Zach. (Editor’s Note: Use epinephrine at the first sign of an allergic reaction and call 911.) He is aware of how serious my allergy is and immediately picked me up from my apartment and took me to public safety at Kutztown University. While I was at public safety, they called for an ambulance. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Zach was comforting me and trying to keep me calm. Zach also followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed at the hospital with me for eight hours with my mother. Zach was reassuring and kept me positive while with me. Without him, I’m not sure if I would have made it to the hospital in time to get the necessary care I needed.
- How can you be a good friend to someone with food allergies?
It’s easy; just treat them like normal human beings. Don’t treat me differently. I can’t tell you how many times I’m offered food from someone and I respectfully decline because of my food allergies. People assume that being allergic to milk products is the same thing as being lactose intolerant, which is far from the truth. A lot of people believe that if I just have a little milk, I should be fine. Even the smallest amounts of milk gives me hives, causes vomiting, and could make it difficult for me breathe and force me to use my epinephrine auto-injector.
Another way to be a good friend is if you invite a friend to your house; make sure you have food that they can eat. If you don’t, that’s fine — just make sure you tell them ahead of time so they can bring their own. Also, most of my friends know how to use an epinephrine auto-injector in case I’m unable to because of a sudden allergy attack. Make sure you train your closest friends and loved ones on how to use one in case of emergencies.
- What advice would you give a younger kid or a friend who was just diagnosed with food allergies?
Nothing too crazy is really going to change with the way you live; you just have to be careful with what you eat and your surroundings. Yes, you might have to bring your own food to certain events but you just can’t let little things like that get you down. Make sure when you go out to eat, that the restaurant understands cross-contact so you don’t get sick. Always carry a backup food in case you are in a situation where you feel the food is not safe to eat. Also, always carry medicine on you in case of a food allergy reaction. Always read the ingredients on everything. You will become a master of reading ingredients after a while. Make sure whoever is handling your food knows of your new food allergies.
Are you inspired by Sal? You can give back to FARE too by donating this holiday season at www.foodallergy.org/donate.