Food shelves look to expand options for those with allergies

Published: Aug. 9, 2023 at 5:46 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - Food shelves are busier than ever these days, and some are working to expand their menus.

It’s hard enough for some to get a bite to eat, but add complications like food allergies on top of that, and shelves can look even more bare. That’s why community resources are working with people to pack grocery bags.

“There was a little bit of a discrepancy between households that did not have any kind of dietary restriction in terms of how much food that they were able to take home because of that, and those that didn’t,” said Amy Boudreaux of Aunt Dot’s Place.

Aunt Dot’s Place is a food shelf in Essex that started a dietary and cultural dietary needs section a year ago.

Boudreaux says they stock their food by gathering information from their clients. Boudreaux says the most common requests are low sodium and low sugar foods, especially for clients with diabetes or heart disease. Other popular requests are gluten-free for celiac clients and foods without eggs or dairy for those with allergies.

“Once you start asking and intentionally asking clients what their needs are, you learn more. So we have been able to expand the area to reach more of our clients that have those needs,” said Boudreaux.

In June, Aunt Dot’s Place had 215 visits, 51 of which were from clients with special dietary needs.

Feeding Chittenden, a food shelf in Burlington, has expanded inventory when able, and agrees gluten-free food is a popular request.

“We’re continually working to expand our inventory to include, for example, more culturally relevant and dietary specific foods to meet the diverse needs of a community,” said Anna McMahon, the associate director of Feeding Chittenden.

McMahon adds they partner with the UVM Medical Center and the Children’s Hospital for food-insecure patients who can make their dietary restrictions clear on an online marketplace. But in a post-flood Vermont, McMahon notes there is scarcity in the food shelf world.

“A lot of the produce that we’re receiving from the Intervale. We’re gonna be seeing a lot less of that. But we’re constantly working to expand our food inventory so that we are asking recipients and guests what are the kinds of things that you need?” said McMahon.

Dietary restrictions are often affiliated with health concerns. The Community Health Center in Rutland has a wide range of patients, some of whom experience social determinants that create barriers to health care.

“Economics plays a big role in whether they can afford their medications, whether they can afford their food or their living situation,” said Claudia Courcelle of the Community Health Center.

For years, the center has had a care manager program to support patients, noting many need extra support now more than ever. Their pharmacy program helps food insecure patients receive fresh produce and distributes gas cards to help in transportation. They also have a registered dietitian and a diabetes support group.

“Once patients go out and get food, you don’t have a lot of control over what they eat. But we do have resources available,” said Mary Jane Miles, also from the Community Health Center.

The state confirms people with allergies enrolled in Medicaid do get their epinephrine covered.