A year ago I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance. That meant I had to cut out anything with gluten in it from my diet. No wheat, barley, rye. I eat gluten free cookies, bread and pasta. I've learned how to adjust my diet, but I wasn't expecting my new food allergy to overlap with work, other than what I took for lunch and not being able to eat at staff potlucks.
I discovered that there are a lot of products, not just food products, that contain gluten. Lots of craft supplies that I come in contact with on a daily basis in the library are not always gluten free. For me, I'm extra cautious about when I'm using crayons, play dough, and glue and I make sure to wash my hands a lot, especially after handling any of these items. But it got me thinking about making sure our library programs are allergy friendly.
This winter we hosted a Cookie Club in which patrons got a card stamped on each visit to the library and after six visits got invited to a cookie party. I had a parent tell me, oh, we can't come to the party because my kids can't have gluten. I told her I couldn't have gluten either and that I would have gluten free cookies at the party. They ended up not coming to the party and I saved the gluten free cookies I had brought for myself, so it wasn't a waste. But it did get me thinking if patrons are avoiding library programs because of food allergies.
The top eight food allergies are: Milk, Eggs, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Fish, Shellfish, Soy, and Wheat.
Whenever we host an event with food, we advertise that there will be food involved. And if the library started to order special made food for every program on the off chance that a child with an allergy would come, that would start getting expensive. And I just don't think it would be possible to cut out every possible allergen someone might possibly be allergic to.
Yet I do think we have a responsibility to make sure those patrons feel welcome at programs. If at times we can provide a special food that would be great and very welcoming. Or if we host a cooking program (we've done Teen Iron Chef and Tween Picnic Lunch programs) we could make sure we have supplies and ingredients that could be allergy friendly, like fruits and vegetables. And we can encourage patrons to bring their own food item so their child doesn't feel left out, which many with food allergies are already used to doing. I also think we can try to make sure we offer brands like Elmer's and Crayola that state that their craft items are gluten free. I don't want anyone to feel as though they can't come to the library because they are afraid of possible food programming.
So I'm curious. Have any of you encountered issues with food allergies at library programs? Do you offer alternatives? How do you handle food at programs?