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  • Hillary Mathis

An Ice Cream Social For Everyone—allergies or not

Guest author and changemaker Hillary Mathis, creator behind Allergy Mom Life on Instagram and Facebook, shares a recent school experience in hopes that it will help another mom facing a similar situation. She writes, "We food allergy mommas go above and beyond sometimes to make sure our children are safely included, and it’s so worth it!" Her son's smile says it all.


Read on and find out what this food allergy mom did to make a school ice cream social safe and inclusive for everyone, and how her efforts are inspiring the school to think {& organize) more inclusively.

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Usually when I hear the words “Ice Cream Social” my heart instantly sinks, and this time was no different when my son’s school announced one for open house, but I automatically switched into “allergy-mom mode” and was determined to see if we could make it work.


I had joined the school’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) last year, and thankfully they were helping with it. So, I volunteered. First, I met with the school nurse to see how many dairy allergy or intolerance kids there were in the school. Once I had a number, I factored in some siblings and parents and then went shopping for dairy-free ice cream and toppings.


I brought everything to the school the day of the event. Before the event I labeled all the bowls, pre-scooped the ice cream, and then put each bowl separately into another labeled bag for safety and easy storage in the freezer. While I was preparing everything, a teacher kindly offered to help. As we scooped and chatted, I learned she was also a food allergy momma to a daughter with multiple food allergies. We instantly hit it off!


When the social was over, I found out the ice cream servers went through ALL of the dairy-free ice cream and they could have used more! I was so happy that families benefitted from having this option available. The whole time we were there, my son had the biggest smile on his face. (It was also Grandparent’s Day at school, so my son got to enjoy the fun with his Nanny (pictured above), making it extra special.)


The school had so much ice cream leftover that they decided to make root beer floats for each class during homecoming week on “50’s Day." This event would not be an after-hours social like the open house, but would take place during school hours. My anxiety kicked in yet again, but I quickly snapped back into “allergy-mom mode” to see what could be done to make it work for my son and the other kids who needed a dairy-free option.


The PTO was helping with the event, so I volunteered to work the event, as well as to provide the allergy-friendly ice cream. During the planning meeting I learned that all the regular floats would be in clear cups, so I put the dairy-free ice cream in red cups, labeled them, and put them in a labeled bag so there would be no chance of cross contamination.


As a precaution, I took a picture of the cup and showed it to my son the night before so he knew which cup he would be using ahead of time. I also sent the picture to his teacher so she was aware, and the PTO informed the other teachers that a dairy-free option was available for students who would need it.


Everything went smoothly! Fourteen kids with a dairy-allergy or intolerance, who would have been excluded from the fun of this special treat, got to participate.


My son came home that day raving about how much he loved the float, and through all of this, I even connected with ANOTHER allergy mom at school. (We all know they are hard to find sometimes and through both of these events, I found two!)


At times I feel that what may be considered a simple occasion by one child, can be such a huge deal for another. This allergy-momma is grateful for options that make situations like these easier and possible for my son to be fully included.


Here are a few takeaways these experiences have shown me, with the most important one being the importance of being proactive and getting involved:

  1. With a little preplanning and some creative thinking, you can absolutely create alternatives that keep your child with food allergies or intolerances included.

  2. Open communication and being positive can make all the difference in how your requests are perceived, received, and implemented — from meeting with the school nurse, to enlisting help from friendly moms and teachers, to sharing crucial information with staff in simple and timely ways.

  3. Being ready and willing to volunteer as your schedule permits keeps you close to event plans, allowing you to adapt your alternate plans as needed. For example: knowing that clear cups would be used for the regular floats, I was able to use red cups to visually identify the dairy-free ones, and then labeled them as an extra precaution.

  4. When you volunteer you get opportunities to meet and connect with other parents who might be quietly facing similar challenges. Joining the PTO was one of the best things I've done, not only as an allergy mom, but also as a mom of young children settling into a new school.

Recently the school called me to ask if there was a dairy-free option for hot chocolate. They had hosted a school-wide fundraiser that went so well they plan to give each class a hot chocolate party to celebrate. And, they want to make sure everyone is included!


I love that our school is becoming more aware of food allergies and intolerances that might exclude some children from special events. I love that they're being proactive about trying to include everyone. And, I love how all this started just a few months ago with an ice cream social that had something for everyone.


I share all of this in hopes that my experiences will help another mom facing a similar situation. We food allergy mommas go above and beyond sometimes to make sure our children are safely included, and it’s so worth it!


 
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About the Author: Hillary Mathis is a wife and mom who loves Jesus and living life in the Magnolia State. In her spare time, she loves going on adventures with her family, as well as volunteering. Being a food allergy advocate has become one of her biggest passions and she loves spreading food allergy awareness whenever (and wherever) she can. Two years ago, she started a blog called 'Allergy Mom Life' on Instagram and Facebook where she shares her journey and experiences.


Images: Courtesy of Hillary Mathis






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