By: Sarah Kirkup and Brittany Garguilo
On Michael Redelick’s ninth birthday, his mother, Blanka was baking him French Macaroons, one of his favorite treats. When they came out of the oven, Michael took one single bite and suddenly, could not breathe. Within minutes, Michael went into anaphylactic shock and the ambulance showed up to take him to the hospital from his Port Washington home.
Blanka, found out she had to add almonds and walnuts to an already long list of allergies for her son, and that was the moment she realized she had to do something.
“Food allergies are not a joke,” Blanka said. “I have to create a movement that spreads food allergy awareness throughout the community.” That is what inspired her to bring the Teal Pumpkin Project to Long Island.
The Teal Pumpkin Project is a national campaign ran by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) that raises awareness for kids with food allergies that are out trick-or-treating on Halloween. According to the FARE website, 1 in every 13 children in America have a food allergy. A house with a teal pumpkin on the front porch signifies that they will be handing out non-food related treats for these children.
Redelick started the first Long Island chapter in Port Washington with the help of a fellow business and the support of many others in the community.
At the North Shore Garden Center, business owner Dominic Strippoli, helps Redelick host pumpkin painting activities where children paint the pumpkins teal and he displays them in front of the store. Strippoli said that over 100 kids came to the North Shore Garden Center in last week to paint pumpkins teal.
“I didn’t realize how large of a problem food allergies were,” Strippoli said. “It wasn’t until all of the town started showing up with their children when I realized how big of a problem nut allergies were, but I have supported this project 1000 percent.”
Customers who wish to participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project are asked to donate $5 dollars before taking home a teal pumpkin, with all of the proceeds going directly to FARE.
“We hope the Teal Pumpkin Project will become a community tradition for years to come,” Veronica LaFemina, vice president of communications at FARE said. “We have been thrilled to see so many people embracing this initiative as a way to ensure kids with food allergies can enjoy a safe, fun Halloween experience just like their friends.”
Diane Livingston, a Port Washington resident and supporter of the Teal Pumpkin project, has personally dealt with serious food allergies growing up and says she sees this as a way to bring a long-standing issue into a new light.
“It raises community spirit and pride as people come together for a cause that helps protect children,” Livingston said. “It educates the community to make the kids feel safe.”
For parents, watching children with food allergies go up to houses on Halloween to receive candy is hard.
“It’s nerve wracking- you go on the street and you just don’t want to let go of your child’s hand,” Blanka said. “You’re with them at the door, you see their faces of disappointment when all they see are treats with peanuts and turn around and they have a little sad face.”
The Teal Pumpkin Project limits that fear for parents and once they see the teal pumpkin on the doorstep it is a clear sign that that house is allergy aware and has treats like glow sticks, spider rings and stickers.