At the 2021 Annual Leadership Conference, Emily Brown, CEO of Food Equality Initiative (FEI), explained how the issue became personal. Both of Brown's daughters faced food allergies and sensitivities, but the family didn't have enough resources to meet these needs.
"There are limited options available on WIC and SNAP benefits," says Brown. "And it's expensive to find the replacements."
After this experience, Brown launched the Food Equality Initiative to improve health and end hunger in individuals diagnosed with food allergies and celiac disease, through access to safe and healthy food, and advocacy. The program launched in partnership with Children's Mercy Kansas City and has since expanded.
Access is an issue that disproportionately affects families of color and those experiencing poverty. Myriad social, economic and environmental factors that influence health, referred to as the social determinants of health (SDoH) also affect access to food on a systemic level. Areas known as food deserts, communities with limited access to affordable nutritious food, present even tougher challenges for families with kids who have food allergies.
FEI combats this issue based on a prescription model. The process starts with a food insecurity screening where a doctor writes the prescription, sends it to FEI, and the family receives a monthly voucher to order food online and to purchase foods safe for their home.
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced changes to the process, the food is now delivered direct to participants doors, instead of food pantries. This change also reduced stigma and improved participation. As of October 2021, FEI is serving 225 clients across 11 states.
"As a person with lived experience it was important to not just do good things but do them in a good way," says Brown.