For the last two years, people have stopped to stare at the Michaels family’s Halloween display. While most homes have a few jack-o-lanterns sitting by their door during the Halloween season, the Michaels family has dozens displayed on a homemade wall – all donated to them in an effort to raise awareness about food allergies. We asked Claudia Michaels, the young woman responsible for this creative fundraiser, to tell us more about her idea and how it’s helped rally her community:
- What are your food allergies? What’s it like having food allergies?
I am allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. I was diagnosed when I was about five years old, after having reactions to trace amounts of peanuts. It’s challenging; I have to check the ingredients for everything I eat, which can be very time-consuming. This was not a big issue when I was with my parents or with a friend, but it made class trips and other similar outings much more difficult. This was when I didn’t have the power to say, “I’m going to go somewhere else to eat by myself.” I was not old enough to get a taxi or drive myself to a different restaurant. In these circumstances I ended up sitting in a restaurant either with my own food brought from home or waiting until I got home to eat. The worst part for me now is the lack of awareness. Many people don’t understand the severity of my allergies, and think I am being overly cautious.
- Can you tell us about your Halloween food allergy fundraiser?
My project is called the FAREmeadows Pumpkin Wall (a pun based off of the name of my street), and had the slogan “Food Allergies ‘R Scare-E”. I bought construction scaffolding and planks of wood, and used these materials to build a wall and set it up in my yard. I asked friends and neighbors to bring a carved pumpkin and a small donation for FARE. I handed out flyers that advertised both the wall, and my FARE Walk for Food Allergy page. I carved the word FARE into the first pumpkin I put on the wall, and painted it teal for FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project, an effort to raise awareness for food allergies. By Halloween there were about 30 pumpkins on the wall, and I had raised enough money for the FARE Walk to be the top individual fundraiser in my city ($1,080)!
- Why did you want to do it? Why was it was important to you?
When I was younger, my parents took me to see a huge wall of pumpkins in another neighborhood in our city. I always loved going to see the wall. Last year, since I was too old to trick-or-treat; I decided to start a wall in my neighborhood. I looked up instructions and tips online for starting the project, and came across a teenage girl who had built a wall to raise money for her friend with cancer. I thought it was a great idea to raise money and awareness through the wall. Halloween has always been hard for me because of my allergies.
- How can you be a good friend to someone with food allergies?
Make a conscious effort to understand their allergies. Ask questions about what they can and cannot eat. I am lucky enough to have neighbors on my street who have done this, so on Halloween they get nut-free candy for me. Most importantly, take their allergy seriously.
- What advice would you give a younger kid or a friend who was just diagnosed with food allergies? What advice would you give to someone wanting to get more involved, or run a fundraiser of their own?
Do not try to hide your allergy. So many kids who are diagnosed with food allergies do not tell people about them. Food allergies are nothing to be ashamed of. They simply make you unique.
If you are thinking about running a fundraiser, make it personal. Tell people your story. I chose to link my fundraiser to my favorite holiday, and then I made it personal by telling people about how difficult Halloween can be for food allergy kids.
Are you inspired by Claudia? You can give back to FARE too by donating this holiday season at www.foodallergy.org/donate.