Food Lovers Forget Those with Allergies

Danielle Markowitz, Staff Writer

“The class that raises the most money wins… a free pizza party!” said the student anchor on the morning announcements.

This is a common phenomenon in Montgomery County schools: starting from elementary school all the way to high school, kids are bribed by food. For school fundraisers, classroom contests and even by club meetings, food prizes are usually the common factor.

“Come to our club! We have cookies!”

“If we score highest on the test, the teacher will bring in donuts!”

“The class that fundraises the most will get a pizza party!”

While this form of bribery may have good intentions, food prizes unfortunately leave out a number of children: those with food allergies.

I know from experience; I myself have severe food allergies that prevent me from enjoying the occasional donut or slice of pizza. One of my most vivid memories occurred in fifth grade: it was the first time I had won “Bingo” in my entire 10 years of living. I proudly sauntered to the front of the room where my teacher awaited me with a winning smile. Slowly my face melted into despair as she handed me a lollipop as my prize. A lollipop? Really?

“Uh, Ms. Greaves?  I’m allergic to lollipops,” I said.

“Oh, okay. Well, how about you give your prize to one of your friends?” she answered.

I was shocked at this statement. The first prize I have ever won and I was told to give it away? This was simply unacceptable. Flash forward to every year of my life since then where school events, fundraisers and contests somehow always manage to remain filled with allergen-ridden food.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 3.8 million children reported with food allergies as of Oct. 2010. Almost 9 million reported skin allergies and another 8.2 million reported respiratory allergies. Cleaner environments and hyperactive immune systems have contributed to the rise of children with allergies in the U.S., and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, from 1997 to 2007, the number of kids suffering from allergies rose 18 percent. Currently, four out of every 100 children have a food allergy.

With such staggering statistics, one would think schools with progressive legislation, such as Montgomery County, would prudently take the steps to create a more hypoallergenic environment, from eliminating dust bunnies to offering more food options in the cafeteria. But alas, this is not the case. MCPS regulation merely states, “The school nurse should carefully monitor the health records of students known to be allergic to insect stings, food items or other allergy-related conditions identified by a physician, and notify all appropriate school staff.”

This document was written in 1974 and then revised in 2008 to update directory information. It is a little outdated for the current times.

So I implore Montgomery County to not only update its policies but to generally create a more healthy food environment. Providing healthy alternatives or even material prizes compared to the traditional donut, candy and pizza rewards gives kids more variety in what they can receive and also sends a clear message about healthy living. This creates more opportunity for those with allergies to get rewarded for their hard work and perhaps sheer luck in winning Bingo.