Only 10 years old, Faith has already required 36 shots of adrenaline to keep her lungs and heart from shutting down.
According to her mother, Linda, Faith’s most recent brush with death was in October. Even though the grill that cooked Faith’s food had been cleaned, the lingering presence of a cheeseburger was enough to send her into anaphylactic shock.
That sensitivity makes eating a life-and-death proposition, an awful lot to ask of someone who hasn’t even made it to middle school. But Faith seems to take the ordeal in stride.
“She has a vibrant, infectious spirit. She’s just an amazing, happy girl,” said Hall, with whom I spoke this week. (I didn’t talk with Faith, who was convalescing from a nasty fever.) “She knows her challenges in life.”
While Faith’s ongoing battle hasn’t stopped her from being the apple of her parents’ eyes, it has stopped her from attending school on a regular basis. Even though Faith washes her hands constantly, wears long sleeves and only eats food she knows is safe, her mother said, it remains a perilous environment.
But no healthy 10-year-old can live in isolation. Kids need to play, socialize, learn how to get along with peers and other people. And what better place to get some real social contact than the four annual holiday parties at Hawkins Elementary School?
Problem is, there’s all that deadly food, getting on hands, tables, chairs — not a good bet for Faith or the other 20-plus kids at the school who have “severe” food allergies, Hall said.
So, in addition to a Jefferson School District wellness plan, officials at Hawkins advocate a policy that prohibits items with dairy, egg, nut or shellfish products from classroom celebrations.
The school goes the extra mile, providing a list of 100 items that are allergy-safe — a list with fruit, vegetables and enough kid-friendly goodies to please even sugar-hungry second-graders.
Hawkins Principal Stephanie Gregson told me that equity and safety are at the heart of the idea.
“Our responsibility is to ensure all of our students are safe when they’re here on campus. And that’s the bottom line,” she said.
Right now, Gregson said, the goal is to raise awareness and collect feedback from staff, students and parents.
But while Gregson characterized most of the reactions as compassionate and understanding, Hall said there’s been plenty of pushback from parents who don’t want to be told what treats they can and can’t take to the parties. (One such shindig is scheduled for today.)
These parents would rather the kids with allergies stay home, Hall says, than be inconvenienced by finding cupcakes made sans milk and eggs.
“The biggest response we get is to keep your kids home or teach them not to touch things,” Hall said. “Some of these parents … are basically saying, we don’t want your kid there if your kid is going to be a problem.
“We want parents to realize there is no food more important than a child’s life,” she continued, arguing for the value of empathy.
Looking at the comments of a Thursday News10 story about the issue, you can see the values some people prefer to trade in:
“The rest of the students should not be denied a good time at the expense of a few students.”
“Don’t keep 70% of the class from enjoying themselves because of allergies. The mothers that know about these conditions should prepare their own child’s snacks and tell them to eat nothing else.”
“It is sad that we have parents at our school who feel the need to. Control everything g down to what type of snacks are ok for a clas party. What is next?” (all sic)
“We have the right to be free to pick & choose what foods we eat.”
Sorry folks, this is not a “Don’t Tread On Me” moment.
We’re not talking about detaining American citizens without due process. We’re not even talking about parents who take their children to a haunted house and are scandalized that the kids get scared. We’re talking about snacks at a school party.
When it comes down to it, Hall and Hawkins officials aren’t asking for much.
They don’t suggest that parents abdicate responsibility for educating and protecting their allergy-affected kids. They just think it’d be nice to have four days out of the year in which grade-schoolers with allergies can socialize free from the fear of looming death. All it takes to make it happen is compassion and understanding — maybe a little creativity.
This is a chance for parents to be real role models and show their children what it means to be a part of a community, to care for others, and to sometimes — perish the thought — put the needs of others first.
What a Christmas gift that would be.
• Share your thoughts with editor Jon Mendelson at firstname.lastname@example.org