Jennifer Warren’s 6-year-old daughter, Brooke, is severely allergic to dairy, tree nuts and eggs. The mother from Traverse City, Michigan, wants her child to play at the park, but she has had concerns about the risks of allergen cross-contact, especially since Brooke has already had one reaction from ingestion of a trace amount of food.
“When I’d be at the playground with Brooke, I would see kids all the time with stuff she’s allergic to, often climbing on the equipment while they’re eating,” she told Allergic Living. “I would feel like I have to take her home. That’s unfair.”
Last fall, Warren decided to take matters into her own hands about raising awareness about food allergies so that parents and food-allergic kids can feel a little more at ease in the park. She drew inspiration from a news report about a mother in Minnesota who raised money to put up food allergy awareness signs around her local parks.
Warren thought it was a terrific idea, and decided attempt the same in Traverse City. She realized that others who don’t live with food allergies simply might not think of the food residue issue. Recalling a reaction Brooke had three years ago, she said the only thing that made sense “was that she had touched something that had traces of dairy or her other allergens.”
Warren says that at the time, she hadn’t been aware it was possible for her daughter to have a reaction to traces of her allergens. It got her thinking: “If I didn’t understand fully, how should I expect other people to? Her next thought was: “I have to do what I can to spread the word.”
She approached Traverse City’s Parks and Recreation Department to ask if she could get signs made and placed that say: “Did you know 1 in 13 children has a food allergy? You can keep our children safer with these simple steps: 1. Eat at picnic areas. 2. Clean your hands with water-based wipe after eating.”
Knowing money to make the signs would likely be an obstacle, Warren launched a GoFundMe fundraiser late last September. Within 24 hours, she had raised the $1,000 she needed.
“I was on a high when it all happened so quickly,” she recalls. There is currently one sign up at Bryant Park in Traverse City and the plan is to get signs up in eight parks with designated eating areas.
Warren says a lot of moms have reached out to tell her they were happy about the signs and asking how they can do it in their own community.
“All I want is to try to make the city a little bit more allergy aware,” she says. While not everyone will comply, and Warren knows she needs to bring her own wipes, she still feels it does help reduce risks for her daughter and other allergic kids. “I’m trying to make it a safer place for people with allergic kids.”