Mark and Laura Acosta’s life changed in 2016 when their son Owen, then eight-months-old, took his first bites of food.
Within a few moments, Owen began vomiting violently, and he broke out in hives all over his body. Owen survived, and he was diagnosed with severe food allergies. He tested a positive allergy for seven out of the top eight allergens.
Owen’s condition is far from unique: approximately one in 13 children in the United States have an allergy to at least one stimulus. Of those children, 30 percent are allergic to more than one food type. The reactions to these allergies are life-threatening and often fatal if a child goes into anaphylaxis.
Owen is now four-years-old and thriving, but his parents have had to make major alterations to their lives to keep Owen safe. They still want to make sure he has a happy, normal childhood, but they have to maintain constant vigilance over him and the food to which he is exposed. As a result, Halloween is one of the most difficult times for a the Acostas. In addition to the dangers of ingesting an allergen, Owen is contact-reactive. “Even reaching into a bucket to grab a treat is not an option,” Laura explained.
While the Acostas were researching ways to help Owen deal with his allergies, they learned about the “Teal Pumpkin Project”. Facilitated through Food Allergy Research and Education, the Teal Pumpkin Project is a national campaign intended to raise awareness of food allergies and promote inclusion of all trick-or-treaters throughout the Halloween season. The goal of the project is to create a safer, happier Halloween for people with food allergies.
For the Teal Pumpkin Project, people put out a teal pumpkin at their front door to indicate that they have non-food treats available. It helps parents and children know which houses will have safe alternatives for children with allergies.
The project encourages people to give out non-food items to trick-or-treaters, such as small, inexpensive items purchased from dollar stores, party supply stores, or online shops. The Teal Pumpkin Project advises, “These low-cost items can be purchased and handed out to all trick-or-treaters, or made available in a separate bowl from candy if you choose to hand out both options. Nearly all of these items can be found in a Halloween theme or festive colors.”
When the Acostas learned about the Teal Pumpkin Project, they immediately embraced the movement and began to spread awareness of the project. They enrolled Owen in Foundations Academy Preschool because of the school’s commitment to enable children with allergies to be included in as many activities as possible. While Owen was enrolled in the school, the Acostas met Liz Powell, whose son, Andy suffers from serious food allergies.
Powell and Acosta now work together to promote the Teal Pumpkin Project for the community. They distribute information about the Teal Pumpkin Project to parents to spread awareness and to educate the community on the reality of food allergies. The mothers hope that promoting awareness will result in more families participating in the project and offering non-food alternatives to trick-or-treaters.
Acosta and Powell plan to continue to spread awareness of food allergies through the project. For more information on food allergies and the Teal Pumpkin Project, visit www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/teal-pumpkin-project.