Teal Pumpkin Project promotes food allergy awareness

By Jasmine Dinh

This Halloween, families are opting out of the traditional orange pumpkins for teal-painted ones to help raise awareness about food allergies.

The new tradition is called the Teal Pumpkin Project, with the color teal representing food allergy awareness. By placing a teal painted pumpkin on doorsteps, trick-or-treaters with food allergies are aware which houses offer non-food treats and can enjoy a safe Halloween.

Becky Basalone, creator of the project, started her involvement in 2012 when her then two-year-old son was diagnosed with multiple life-threatening food allergies. She created the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET) to connect with local families. What started as a local support group grew to approximately 50 families by 2013. 

“As a parent, I pray that my actions have a positive impact on my children, but I had never imagined that this act of love would reach so far and impact so many,” Basalone said via email.

The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that works on behalf of 15 million Americans affected by food allergies, recognized Basalone’s efforts. In 2013, FACET became a FARE-recognized support group when it decided to launch the Teal Pumpkin Project. And for the first time this year, the Project has reached a national level.

“That moment when you see a child get to have a treat that they don’t have to trade out or give away is really something special,” said Veronica LaFemina, FARE’s vice president of communications, via email.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported that food allergies result in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year among children under the age of 18. Food allergy is the leading cause of anaphylaxis outside the hospital setting.

“Food allergies are not a lifestyle choice — they are life-altering and potentially life-threatening. Halloween is about having fun with your friends, neighbors and community,” LaFemina said.

Food allergies among children have increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to FARE’s statistics. 

Born with peanut allergies, Kelsey Christensen, junior in LAS, understands the risks involved with food allergies.

“I’m deathly allergic to peanuts,” she said. “On a scale of one to six, I’m a 5.5.”

Christensen said she thinks the project is an awesome idea and that more people should do it.

“Trick-or-treating was awful at times, because sometimes you got a lot of candy you couldn’t really eat,” Christensen said.

According to Katie May, Carle Foundation Hospital’s registered nurse for allergy, food allergies are on the rise. 

May said one in 13 children have food allergies now, so statistically she’s been seeing one to two kids per classroom. May also has a 10-month-old son who has recently been diagnosed with peanut allergies and a four-year-old son who understands the circumstances. 

“Obviously my 10 month old isn’t old enough to trick-or-treat, but my 4 year old is going to go trick-or-treating like any other kid, but we’ve decided he’s going to turn his candy in for toys,” she said.

May is also a community food allergy educator and looking forward to participating in this year’s Teal Pumpkin Project.

“We knew that the Teal Pumpkin Project would strike a chord within the food allergy community, and have been thrilled to see so many people who are not managing food allergies embrace the idea as well,” LaFemina said. 

Jasmine can be reached at [email protected].