Kansas City woman opens specialty food pantry for people who have food allergies

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Food insecurity hit Emily Brown's family fast and hard. She called it the perfect storm.

Both of her young daughters diagnosed with autoimmune disease and severe food allergies. Her one-year-old was so sick, Brown had to quit her job.

"I went through all of the cabinets and read all of the food labels and realized her allergens were mixed in almost everything. And then we did a clean sweep, and then I went to the grocery store,” Brown said.

Brown said she was astounded with what she found. Staples like allergen free milks are $3-7 more expensive than cow’s milk, and there is more than a 1,000% markup on allergen-free flour.

The now one-income family signed up for government assistance only to find out many items are not covered. When Brown turned to a food bank for help, the only allergen friendly foods she could find were potatoes and salsa.

A history of autoimmune disease

FOX4's Shannon O’Brien has been very open about the fact she has an autoimmune disease. She's worked to take viewers along on her journey to find ways to combat the often debilitating side effects that come along with it.

Shannon has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that affects her thyroid. Because of that, there are many food groups that Shannon cannot eat. The foods she needs to properly fuel her body are very expensive.

One of the ways to suffocate the flames of autoimmune disease is healthy, organic food.

However, not everyone can afford it. For families who deal with autoimmune diseases, it can be almost impossible to afford foods that will not hurt them --until now.

A solution that doesn't break the budget

With her two children in mind, Brown started the Food Equality Initiative. It's a food pantry within a food pantry for people who suffer from autoimmune diseases and food allergies.

"It is definitely a lifesaver. It is fantastic," said Alicia Weiss, who has a severe gluten allergy.

When she eats gluten, Weiss said she breaks out in a rash and has such severe pain, it knocks her down for days.

Providing for her family can be a struggle at times, so Weiss used to have to put her needs last or not at all. Then, she found out about the Food Equality Initiative.

"If this didn't exist, I probably wouldn't be able to get more than one meal a day, if that," Weiss said.

"To be worried about, 'Are we going to be able to afford what we need?' is something, no one should feel, especially when it is for a medical expense," Brown said.

Fifty million people in the United States have been diagnosed with autoimmune diseases.

If you or someone you love is in that group, we have set up a Facebook page called Fighting Autoimmune Disease with FOX4. It’s a community where you will find good information and lots of support.

If you would like more information about how to take advantage of or support Food Equality Initiative, you can find that information on their website.

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