By Sara Jane Kaminski
It’s the week before Halloween, and in addition to being up to our elbows in pumpkin guts, we are now also covered in teal paint. “Painting and making a giant mess” are what my daughter, Cora, says she likes best about the Teal Pumpkin Project, but I’m pretty sure my six-year-old is also psyched not to have to swap 75 percent of her loot with the Switch Witch–being allergic to eggs, peanuts, treenuts, sesame (in candy corn!) and shellfish seriously diminishes her candy haul.
When I stumbled across the Teal Pumpkin Project a week before Halloween in 2014, we started with a humble patch. I painted them, gathered non-food treats, printed out FARE’s signs and brought them to the local toy and coffee shops and a friend on the next block for the neighborhood parade. Cora hit them up and was thrilled to pick out spider rings, pirate eye patches, tattoos, bubbles and glow sticks. I returned the following day to find the treat buckets were still nearly full (except for the toy store!), but that the feedback was overwhelmingly positive: “What a great idea!” “I had no idea so many kids had allergies!” “We are definitely doing this next year!”.
When October 2015 rolled around, we were ready to go big. After a recent accidental egg ingestion at a restaurant that lead to anaphylaxis, using our EpiPen, a 911 call and ambulance ride to the emergency room, we had an even stronger reason to turn the Teal Pumpkin Project into a tradition.
The first place we started was at Cora’s school. The EMTs from Boston Emergency Medical Services (EMS) who attended to Cora agreed to visit her class and share safety tips not only for Halloween but also for when a friend needs help. We emphasized the important roles friends, parents, leaders and helpers play in keeping children safe. Cora shared her story about how sick the eggs made her, that it was an emergency, and how she needed help. Her young classmates eagerly agreed they would help “look for the label” and could remember to call 911.
Even as young as four and five, Cora’s friends understood it was not fun to be sick and were ready to rally around her. The Teal Pumpkin painting activity that followed the EMT talk gave these kind kiddos the opportunity to take home their new awareness and information and share it with their families. Each child received a cup of allergy-friendly treats that included a mini-poster encouraging participation in the Teal Pumpkin Project.
Later, when I asked Cora what was the best part of the presentation, she said, “That all of my friends believed in me.”
In addition, our neighbors kept their word, and shared the Teal Pumpkin Project widely. When we trick-or-treated, there were eight houses on two streets with Teal Pumpkins and allergy-friendly treats. Many had even printed out FARE’s signs and were talking to parents who were curious about all these crazy blue pumpkins. My gratitude for our community’s empathy swelled as my daughter squealed with delight when she spotted one Teal Pumpkin after another.
We have watched in awe the last two years as the Teal Pumpkin Project has grown from a small original crop into a national movement toward inclusion. Having food allergies has been, and will continue to be, a daily challenge. What we have learned, and want to share, is that awareness leads to action. We are deeply grateful for our ever-expanding compassionate community who are gathering around Cora and the 1 in 13 kids just like her, who live with food allergies. This Halloween, we hope you will come join us in the Teal Pumpkin Project!