May is food allergy awareness month and according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, approximately 2.5 million Canadians have at least one food allergy.
At Cedarvale Community School in York there are 42 children with at least one food allergy, said school principal Carmelo Nanfara.
Food allergies are taken seriously as Cedarvale; each classroom is equipped with an EpiPen station in case students can’t locate their own in an emergency.
It’s also why Cedarvale had Anaphylaxis Canada and their newest partner, Canadian Indy race car driver Alex Tagliani, drop by on Wednesday, May 8 to talk to students.
“I’m trying to get people more aware of the situation. I decided to partner with Anaphylaxis Canada and EpiPen because I came across some information that was very surprising to me,” said Tagliani, referring to the two-and-half-million Canadians who have a food allergy.
“And a very small amount of them carry an EpiPen or own one. And I’m just like, ‘Are they crazy, why risk it?’”
He also admitted to the crowd of kids that “a reaction to food allergy is way more frightening than driving a race car at 400 km/h.”
Tagliani, who is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, shared a story about an allergic reaction he had at a restaurant, when a piece of cheesecake had a small coating of almond paste he didn’t know about. His throat closed up right away and he had trouble breathing and realized he’d left his EpiPen in the rental car in the parking lot. He had to run and get it to help save his own life. An ambulance was called and he was sent to the hospital.
“I will always carry my EpiPen wherever I go now,” said Tagliani to a crowd of students from kindergarten to Grade 4 who had plenty of questions for Tagliani about food allergies.
And that’s exactly what director of marketing and communications, Beatrice Povolo, was hoping to see.
“It’s terrific that so many kids, both allergic and non-allergic, have questions and want to know more,” said Povolo.
“It’s really what all this is about, trying to build that community of support and that empathy.”
Food allergies have taken a front seat in the past eight years with the introduction of Sabrina’s Law in 2005, passed by the provincial government. It requires all school boards in the province to establish and maintain a anaphylaxis policy.
While at Cedarvale, Tagliani launched his helmet design contest for his Summer of TAG campaign that asks students can go online and create art that conveys a positive food allergy awareness message. He even tried on the helmet for the crowd and got some cheers and super hero comparisons.
The winner’s artwork will appear on Tagliani’s helmet when he races in the Toronto Honda Indy July 13 and 14 and the winning artist will be given three tickets to see him race, along with a meet-and-greet and up to $1,000 for travel expenses.
For Tagliani, letting children know the importance of managing their food allergies as well as always carrying their EpiPen with them, was the most important message.
“You can spend all the time in the world with people telling them you have a deadly reaction but cross-contamination can happen,” said Tagliani. “For me, I’m always going the prevention route first and if anything happens I feel safe if I have it. And I would never consider travelling in my life without it. It’s way to risky.”