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Initiative invites you to take wheat-free challenge

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Could you feed yourself on a food stamp budget of about $4.50 a day? Maybe so. But what if you had celiac disease and couldn't eat anything containing wheat? It gets harder.

"These are just thin corn tortillas," said Kansas City Councilwoman Alissia Canady as she prepared a chicken wrap.

Canady is taking a wheat-free challenge this week. She's eating nothing with gluten or wheat, just as someone with celiac disease has to eat, and she's trying to do it on the same budget as someone on food stamps.

"I was not able to make that happen. I realized that the food options that are gluten-free are a lot pricier than the normal food I would use," said Canady.

Cheaper foods such as regular pasta and bread are off-limits to those with celiac. Canady found much more is, too.

"You can do meals with rice and different sauces and things like that. Well, a lot of the sauces have wheat in 'em," she said.

And alternatives to wheat can cost two to four times more.

"Those typically cheap meals become very expensive when you have to buy a $7 loaf of bread or a $4 bag of pasta," said Emily Brown, co-founder of the Food Equality Initiative.

The initiative is holding the challenge to raise awareness of the difficulties that people with celiac encounter and awareness of the help the group can provide. It opened a food pantry called ReNewed Health in Overland Park last spring just for those with celiac or food allergies. Free food is available there.

"We truly believe the work we're doing is improving the quality of life for individuals that visit the pantry but also saving their lives. It truly is a public health service," said Brown.

So far, the pantry has helped more than 60 area residents and would like to help many more.