Dee Valdez (aka Gluten-Free Dee) is a celiac angel. The ribbon cutting ceremony for her new program—gluten-free food banks–is just in time for the holidays. The test site for this program is Loveland’s House of Neighborly Service in Loveland, Colorado. If you live in the Loveland area, please join Dee on Tuesday, December 15 between 4 and 6 pm to usher in the new gluten-free section of the food bank. And don’t forget to bring along some gluten-free food to donate.
Here is Dee’s very heartfelt personal story, including her vision for future food banks, and what you can do to help…
What was your inspiration for starting gluten-free food banks?
After I co-founded the Celiac Support Group in Northern Colorado 17 years ago, I remember talking to a mother who had a sick 7 year old who had Celiac Disease. The exasperated mom said she had to choose between feeding her whole family or just feeding her sick daughter the very expensive gluten free food she could find. The distraught mother said, referring to her celiac daughter, “She’s just going to have to live with diarrhea.”
I was devastated by her reality, so I gathered as much gluten free food as I could and left it on her doorstep. Unfortunately, my reality was very similar financially, so it didn’t allow me to help parents like her again, until now.
It’s tough having Celiac Disease or a gluten intolerance but with enough time and money it’s simply inconvenient. I’ve had a small grocery budget most of my life as a mom. It was particularly difficult when my undiagnosed celiac son was playing football in high school and I had to feed him steak and potatoes at least 2 times a day just to keep him from losing so much weight. So I know the heartache of having to compromise the quality of food for everyone in the family so one person can get the nutrition they need.
My heart bleeds for the moms and dads who want to feed their kids well but have to resort to foods high in sugar, fat and salt and low in nutrition to just keep them alive. And if someone can’t eat the gluten filled food from the food bank staying healthy is a very high hurdle to jump.
Ten years ago, when I first became a single mom, and I said the cupboards were bare it was because they were empty, not because they weren’t filled with our favorites. I worked delivering pizza for cash at that time while I was building an AFLAC Insurance business. I was happy to bring home pizza each night for my daughters but very hungry myself. I saw the high level of cross contamination on all the pizza ingredients, so I didn’t even eat a salad. Consequently, I went to bed hungry many nights. I often told my girls that I had already eaten so they didn’t feel bad eating in front of me. Even though it was late, they often stayed up for this extra meal. These are tough memories. It was an even tougher reality. The lack of food dulled my mind and made my ADHD even worse.
What is your vision for future food banks?
What I see in 2010 and beyond are GF Food Banks being established nationwide in partnership with existing food banks in communitywide and small church run programs. I see people building support systems for each other that actually uplift, encourage and sustain someone with great needs. I see people who normally give being willing to receive because they know their days of giving will again return I see communities across the country celebrating because they set up their local gluten free food bank. I see pictures being shared with balloons, media, locals and dignitaries speaking and lots of gluten free food being donated on local and corporate levels.
I see explosive awareness for Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance in new arenas with deepened understanding because of the widespread knowledge of the great expense of making and buying gluten free food. I see corporations nationwide looking to gluten free food manufacturers to explore how to create their own corporate giving programs because they see:
1. Immense PR & Marketing benefits
2. That it’s good for their bottom line
3. That it just feels right to give.
I see gluten free consumers sending hand written thank you notes, offering a thank you at vendor fairs and blogging about these generous companies who leverage their place in the market by giving to those in need.
I see Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance becoming as well known and easy to identify by individuals, medical professionals and educators as MS, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
I see leaders in other countries following the US and beginning to implement similar programs.
How can gluten-free food manufacturers participate?
Companies can contact me and we’ll discuss what they are able to do. Then we’ll put together a corporate giving program customized for them.
Right now, anyone wishing to donate to the nations 1st Gluten Free Food Bank can send product to:
House of Neighborly Service
GF Food Bank
565 N. Cleveland Ave.
Loveland, CO 80537
Tricia’s note: If you are a gluten-free food manufacturer and you make donations to food banks, please let me know. I would love to recognize your generosity.
How can other individuals from around the country participate?
We’re developing teams of volunteers who want to join this movement by helping in their community. Across the country volunteers can help in three easy steps:
1. Find a food bank with a willing heart – committed to do the extra work on an ongoing basis to set up a gluten free section. The food bank also has to be the point of distribution so they have direct contact with the individual who will receive the food.
2. Start the process by helping the team at the food bank learn to sort current donations.
3. Contact me for coaching on how to make the program successful in your community.
There will eventually be a downloadable, step-by-step guide. Communication, support and recognition systems will be established for these key leaders who are making things happen within their own community. We’ll also be looking for a grant writer who can help us identify funding sources. We’re also establishing a way to support program costs thru our website.
What is the best way for individuals and manufacturers to contact you?
The ideal way to contact me is thru my blog www.GlutenFreeDee.com. Next best is with a call or text message 970-308-1062 letting me know you sent an email (GlutenFreeDee@Gmail.com). And I love direct messages thru Twitter (GlutenFreeDee).
Thank you, Dee!
Copyright © by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
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