“Do you have an EpiPen? No? Well, you do now,” said my son’s allergist after seeing the scratch test reactions to peanuts and nuts. Hillel was almost three years old at the time of his first anaphylactic reaction. We were still home together, so I added a talking Auvi-Q epinephrine injector to my pocket and checked food ingredient panels after I confirmed a kosher symbol on every food I bought. When he was going to start preschool, I worried: how could I keep Hillel safe from peanuts, nuts, eggs, and sesame if many people (still!) don’t take allergies seriously?
I asked his doctor for a note excusing Hillel from school lunch, as there’s no way to guarantee safety from cross-contamination with the ever-present eggs. I expressed my concern to the preschool director during our initial interview, and she reassured me that they maintain a list of preschoolers with food allergies. I ordered a set of Auvi-Q epinephrine injectors to keep in the classroom and nurse’s office. But I still worried that the people in the school who had never experienced an allergic reaction would not appreciate the enormity of the consequence. I decided to create a book that included descriptions of my son’s allergies and photographs of his allergic reactions.
At the end of the summer, I showed the book to the school’s executive secretary who organizes school lunches and snacks for parties. Her hand shook as she turned the pages with photos of Hillel hooked up to an IV in the emergency room. She encouraged me to take the book to the principal. He told me he had seen many allergic reactions during his years as a Hatzolah volunteer.
I met with the preschool director, Hillel’s teachers, and the school nurse. We talked about how to keep him safe and how to recognize his allergic reactions. We reviewed his emergency plan (http://www.foodallergy.org/document.doc?id=234) and I showed them the book I had created.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth 1,000 words. Thank God, we had a wonderful start to the school year. Hillel’s teacher found an egg-free recipe for a baking activity on the second day of school. She set a small table at the head of the kids’ table at meal times so Hillel could socialize without worry of cross-contamination and contact reactions to his friends’ food. On school trips, the previously served snack labeled “may contain trace” peanuts was replaced with nut-free facility, egg-free treats—even though I sent in a stash of safe snacks.
I also showed the book to the director of our shul’s youth group. The snacks served at Shabbat parties in shul always include a safe option for kids with allergies. On Simchat Torah, all the snacks were nut-free. The youth group director insisted that the book be available to ALL schools, to help protect other children.
I worked with Bryna Leider at The Jewish Education Project’s Parent Leadership Network to adapt the book for a wider audience, and added space for parents to insert their own child’s photo and specific allergies and reactions. To order a copy for your school, please email email@example.com.