When Ciara O’Riordan, a fifth grader at Birmingham Falls Elementary school in Milton, Georgia, asked the principal to discuss food allergy issues, her mother, Michelle O’Riordan, had no idea where her daughter’s suggestions would lead. It all started at the allergist’s office when an oral food challenge—a diagnostic test for a food allergy—triggered anaphylaxis, requiring the use of epinephrine.
Michelle shared the experience on KFA’s Facebook page and received an outpouring of support from individuals who had been through the same thing with their children.
5th grader Ciara-O'Riordan
Unfortunately, though, Ciara remained very upset. The scary experience brought all of her food allergy fears to the surface. To make matters worse, a few “food allergy lapses” then occurred at school. That week, when students rotated classrooms, Ciara returned to her regular classroom to find a peanut butter container sitting on her desk. The next day, milk was left on her desk. Although these incidents resulted in the teacher talking to students about food allergy safety and the importance of cleaning up, Ciara felt it wasn’t enough. Thanks to KFA, Ciara knew that spreading awareness and focusing on prevention were vital. “Something needs to be done,” she said to her mother. “We need more awareness at school. People just don’t know what it’s like to live with food allergies.” “What do you think we should do?” Michelle asked. “I think I should write a letter to Principal Bottoms,” Ciara replied. A week later, Ciara took her letter to school, and Mrs. Bottoms promptly set up a lunchtime meeting with her.
Ciara and a friend discussed their concerns and suggestions over lunch with Mrs. Bottoms. The meeting ended with Mrs. Bottoms thanking Ciara for teaching her something she didn’t know and calling Michelle to say how impressed she was with Ciara’s ability to communicate confidently about food allergy issues. Ciara was heard!
Thanks to Ciara’s actions—and with support from KFA— many changes took place. Ciara was allowed to put up food allergy awareness posters, provided by KFA, around the school. An allergy-safe table was established in the cafeteria. The school counselor put together a monthly “lunch bunch” for kids with food allergies, which eventually morphed into a group that meets monthly after school. Principal Bottoms presented Ciara’s agenda to the school’s Leadership Team, and then Michelle was asked to co-chair a parent committee that became “FAST,” the school’s Food Awareness Safety Team. FAST, in turn, is working collaboratively with the school staff and leadership. They have enacted programs that are helping to create a campus-wide culture of awareness and inclusion for all students with food restrictions. All because one fifth-grade girl sprang into action!