While our blog usually features gluten-free recipes, tips, and current events, we’re going in a different direction this week (in light of the holiday spirit) to talk about giving back.
While there are so many great places to give back, in the last few years especially, gluten-free food banks and charities have gotten a lot more funding and attention.
How great it is to see more folks raising more awareness to this worthwhile cause!
However, while you and I know how expensive and challenging it is to maintain a strict gluten-free diet, there are certainly still others that see our diet as a fad, or in more cases, just have lots of other causes competing for their dollars and attention…
So, let’s look at a few gluten-free food banks and dig into 4 causes that are particularly worth your support and help.
Why Are Gluten-Free Food Banks Important?
Food banks are non-profit organizations that distribute food to those who can’t afford enough on their own. Recent polls show that as many as 37 million Americans, including 14 million children, require food aid in the United States. As we know, more and more children are being diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, so the need for food banks that specifically cater to gluten-free needs is more important every year.
Food banks usually act as storage facilities for donated food who later distribute the food to food pantries, soup kitchens, and distribution organizations. Gluten-free food banks provide low income families with celiac they need to stay healthy.
The reason gluten-free food banks in particular are so important is because low-income families can’t afford to buy fresh, whole foods on a weekly basis. As a result, most often the food banks’ food have long shelf lives. If food banks didn’t have dedicated gluten free sections, there likely wouldn’t be enough money dedicated to gluten-free packaged foods throughout the “general” food sections.
The Short List of Gluten-Free Food Banks
Yes, they exist, but nowhere near enough. As far as we know, there are gluten-free food banks in Colorado, Tampa, and New York. Then, in Massachusetts, Pierce’s Pantry is an organization currently supplying pantries throughout the state, and their goal to eventually aid food banks and pantries nationwide. Pierce’s has an informative website explaining eligibility for gluten-free food assistance and how to get involved in your city.
These banks often provide monthly baskets of non-perishable food to families struggling to afford gluten-free food. While it can be complicated and expensive to open an exclusively gluten-free food bank, it is very possible to create a gluten-free section and delegated food budget at already existing locations.
Here’s how you can contribute to gluten-free food banks:
- Get the word out: The first step in combating a problem is to let people know that there is a problem. Let local food banks, pantries, and collection centers know about celiac and the need for gluten-free food items. Ask them to hang flyers, update their websites and designate a portion of their purchasing budget each month to gluten-free food items. Reach out to community members by posting flyers and letting online support groups know how to help. Social media can be helpful in doing this faster!
- Donate: Great gluten-free food donations are pastas, bread, flour mixes, breakfast cereal, and packaged items like soups and muffin mix. Donations should be clearly labeled. I suggest wrapping some masking tape around the item and writing GLUTEN-FREE in large print. Clear labeling will help food bank workers get the right food to the right people. Sometimes, food banks or similar organizations can get food for much cheaper than you can, so you should also consider donating money. Some places even have “adopt a family” programs where you can provide a specific family with gluten-free food. If a pantry near you doesn’t have a program like this, start one!
- Host a food drive: Food drives can be organized at local schools, libraries, churches, synagogues, or grocery stores. Ask your local health food store to get involved and maybe they will help out with some gluten-free food donations. Make it clear on flyers and advertisements that the drive is for gluten-free food (and add where they can purchase gluten-free food nearby – don’t assume they know it’s offered at the local grocery store!). You can even set up a permanent gluten-free food pantry location if you find a facility willing to host.
- Contact your local food bank: Tell them they should have a dedicated gluten-free section. It is most useful to designate a shelf or area at the food bank or food pantry for gluten-free food, which should be labeled accordingly. If they ask how they’re going to stock the gluten-free section, ask how you can help!
Does your community have a gluten-free food bank, or does your local food bank have a gluten-free shelf?
Other Great Gluten-Free Causes
Beyond just food, there are gluten-free charities (operating year-end) that can help folks with celiac disease and gluten intolerance in ways you would never imagine. There are many more than you’ll read about below, but these are among my favorites.
- Camperships: Organized by the Celiac Disease Foundation, one of the premier gluten-free non-profits, camperships are scholarships for celiac and gluten-free sleepaway camp for children in need. They are paid directly on the campers’ behalf and are available for a variety of camps, including my personal favorite, Camp Kanata. Sometimes donating to large charities can leave something lacking and there’s something special about knowing exactly where your money is going. You can donate to camperships here.
- Celiac Sprue Association: Any gluten-free charity compilation would be incomplete without mentioning CSA. With over 125 chapters and 9,000+ members, this dedicated, hard-working organization is the largest celiac support group in America. Their dedicated volunteer members affectionately refer to themselves as “celiacs helping celiacs,” which I love because that is what this series, and this blog really are all about. The Celiac Sprue Association delegate donations towards their involvement in outreach, education, research and large-scale fundraising projects. They also have multiple volunteer opportunities.
- Chef to Plate: This gluten-free restaurant awareness campaign runs annually during May and has been going strong since 2009, with recent efforts involving as many as 1,300 restaurants. This program, organized by The Gluten Intolerance Group, asks participating restaurants to post educational materials in their establishments to help educate and raise awareness about celiac and gluten intolerance. The restaurants are provided with materials including posters and table-tents. This project has even gone international, with restaurants in Turkey and Italy participating! You can help by volunteering to locate restaurants or by donating to The Gluten Intolerance Group to help support this great effort.
- Gluten-Related Conditions Youth Support Initiative: As someone who works in the field, I understand how important it is for therapists and practitioners to have a clear grasp on the hardships that their clients face. This important project trains mental health professionals throughout the United States to effectively provide youth and their families the skills necessary to cope with celiac and gluten intolerance. Founded by long-time celiac foundation supporters the Resnick family, the youth initiative combines efforts with Children’s National Medical Center to effectively train professionals. Please help out by donating to this very important cause here.
We hope this has been informative and possibly even inspired you to get active in your community to help out! Are there any food banks or charities out there that you support that we haven’t mentioned here?