The awareness of the Teal Pumpkin Project, a now world-wide initiative to promote inclusiveness of kids with food allergies at Halloween, is growing, according to Dr. Patricia Gomez Dinger. Dr. Dinger and her team of advocates with Advanced Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology held their fourth annual Teal Pumpkin Painting Event at San Antonio pumpkin patches throughout the month of October, talking with kids and families about how Teal Pumpkin works and encouraging participation.
“I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing,” said Dr. Patricia Dinger. Dr. Dinger said she is receiving feedback that more people each year, especially children, are growing in their familiarity with Teal Pumpkin. However, the doctor and her team also estimate they talked with several people at her Teal Pumpkin Painting events who still have little or no understanding of why some families display a Teal Pumpkin at Halloween.
“To know we are reaching those people who just haven’t heard about Teal Pumpkin yet is a big opportunity and tells me we still have work to do as a food allergy community,” Dr. Dinger said.
The Teal Pumpkin Project works like this: Display a teal pumpkin on your home’s front porch at Halloween and keep a few non-food treats on hand for trick-or-treaters who might have a food allergy and be allergic to candy. Teal Pumpkin was actually born in the heart of a Tennessee mom whose child has a food allergy. FARE, (Food Allergy Research and Education) grabbed hold of the mom’s idea helping to expose it nationally and then internationally thanks to social media and people, especially those among the food allergy community, posting photos of teal pumpkins.
“It’s not about forgoing candy,” said Dr. Dinger. “What we explain to the families we meet is that it’s about safe options for all trick-or-treaters.”
Dr. Dinger tells the story of several patients she treats for food allergies who, due to their food allergies have never gotten to go trick-or-treating. It’s something hard to imagine for most parents and children. Parents would tell Dr. Dinger that traditional trick-or-treating was just too dangerous. Too risky. There was too much to chance that their child would come into contact with an allergen, such as peanut, that could send him or her into anaphylaxis, a life-threatening reaction. According to the non-profit group Food Allergy Research and Education 200-thousand people require emergency medical care for allergic reactions to food each year. At one time the food allergy and anaphylaxis network stated that approximately 200 people die from anaphylaxis each year in the United States resulting from food allergy. Many people in the food allergy community hold food allergy safe Halloween events and parties where parents can oversee and therefore assure allergens will not be present in any treats that may be given out. While doing such events is one possible solution to keeping kids with food allergies safe while allowing them to celebrate a holiday, some argue that it still isolates kids from the more traditional Halloween celebration of trick-or-treating to neighborhood homes. And that’s where the Teal Pumpkin project comes into play, promoting a safe way to trick or treat with the masses – furthering inclusiveness and increased compassion for those who are different or of a minority group, such as kids with food allergies.
Each October, Dr. Dinger chooses to hold Teal Pumpkin Painting events because they allow families to be hands-on in their growth of understanding of the Teal Pumpkin Project.
Today, it is easier than ever to find pumpkins pre-painted teal for purchase in places such as Target, Walmart, and Michael’s. One can also find pumpkins and Teal Pumpkin signs on Amazon and through online sites like Oriental Trading, providing families with a convenient way to take part in the food allergy project. “There’s something about actually having a child paint with us, though” said Dr. Dinger, “that helps them to feel like they are a part of the solution when it comes growing awareness of food allergies and what it’s like to truly live with one.
At one particular Teal Pumpkin Painting event at Bulverde United Methodist Church, which hosts a fantastic pumpkin patch annually as a fundraiser for its youth ministry, Dr. Dinger encountered a young boy named Luke. As Luke creatively turned his pumpkin from orange to teal he told us about a boy in his grade who has to sit for lunch at a separate table ear-marked for those with peanut allergy. Luke told us he imagines the boy probably feels a little left out sometimes. Upon finishing his teal masterpiece, Luke acknowledged that he would give his freshly painted teal pumpkin to his classmate, demonstrating not just his newfound sense of understanding of what it’s like to live with a food allergy, but a beautiful act of kindness.
In all, Dr. Dinger’s Teal Pumpkin Painting Team, this year, held events at Bulverde United Methodist Church, Bracken United Methodist Church Fall Festival and pumpkin patch, and the Pearl Farmer’s Market leading up to Halloween week. Dr. Dinger provided paint, brushes and all the necessary materials for painting while patrons were asked to purchase their own pumpkin from vendors at each location.
But painting a pumpkin teal is only half of what the Teal Pumpkin Project calls participants to do. It is important to remember to display the teal pumpkin on Halloween, signaling to trick-or-treaters and families that there will be non-food treats available making the home a safe place for food allergy children to get a treat.
Speaking of treats, here are a few ideas of inexpensive non-food treats perfect for Teal Pumpkin participation:
- glow sticks
- glow bracelets
- vampire teeth
- rubber balls
- rubber ducks
- small slinky
And, in addition to putting out a teal pumpkin and having non-food treats available, there is one final, yet huge step in participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project: Help spread awareness by posting teal pumpkin pictures and messages on social media. Dr. Dinger’s office even encouraged patients to paint teal, wear teal, and decorate with teal and then posting it on social media with the hashtag #showyourteal. After all, it was social media that helped the initiative take off in the first place in Tennessee nearly ten years ago.
One day, Dr. Dinger envisions a fearless Halloween wherein all children can participate with little to no worry – whether he or she has a food allergy or not. Until then, attending a teal pumpkin painting event or purchasing a pumpkin already turned teal is a big step towards the creation of a kinder and more inclusive community in which we live.
Erin Kirwan is a former news anchor and reporter and founder of Savvy Media PR. She blogs about news, events, and compelling patient stories for Advanced Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. If you have an idea for a story or unique patient experience, contact Erin at firstname.lastname@example.org