Sep
05

This past July, Lisa Chan, a Minnesota mom to a child with food allergies, was planning to approach her local city, Shoreview, to ask if they would help educate people about food allergies and (hopefully) prevent allergic reactions at the parks. As part of the process, Lisa researched if signs like this exist and asked other parents in the Minnesota Food Allergy Support Group Facebook group, which is where I first heard about this initiative. No one in the group had seen signs like this before, but that didn’t stop Lisa.

She shares her story below in this Q&A interview on the new signs she requested and were successfully installed. Thank you Lisa for sharing your story and inspiring so many families.

What do the new signs say?

They say: “Did you know 1 in 13 children has a food allergy? You can keep our children safer with these simple steps: 1. Eat at picnic areas 2. Clean your hands with a water-based wipe after eating.”

How many parks have the new signs?

There are 10 new signs – one is posted in every city park in Shoreview.

This is one of 10 new signs posted in all Shoreview City Parks designed to educate people about food allergies and provide tips on how to keep children with allergies safe.

Do you know how the signs have been received by other families?

I’ve only heard positive feedback about the signs from all families in the area! Most people want to help keep children safer (and alive) and it’s not a huge thing to ask of someone. It’s also not taking away anyone’s rights–it is just a request, but it’s gone a long way to raise awareness about allergies and how community members can help keep kids safer.

What inspired you to request the new signs?

My son had a mild, allergic contact reaction on Mother’s Day while we were playing at the park. I hadn’t realized that could happen! We began only going to parks in the morning and leaving if I saw kiddos eating ON the actual equipment. This seemed to work until I saw kids getting peanut butter from their sandwiches all over the equipment. If my son came into contact with it, he could die! That’s when I thought that awareness and education on food allergies may be helpful. Maybe families were like me and hadn’t considered cross contamination? Most families were very receptive when I approached them about my son’s allergies, so I decided to reach out to my city (Shoreview, MN) and see if signs raising food allergy awareness were possible.

While there will always be a risk for a child with food allergies to play on public equipment, eating at designated areas (picnic tables, places to set down a picnic blanket) and cleaning hands with a water-based wipe after eating would be a proactive step to help keep so many children safer at the parks! A sign would be a friendly request, and park-goers would still be free to eat wherever and whatever they want, but hopefully a gentle suggestion would make a positive difference for many children.

And it’s healthier for everyone, right? Spreads less germs, keeps the equipment clean and decreases the chance of a child having a food allergy reaction at the park.

How did you approach the city about the new signs? 

I sent a letter to the Mayor and City Council members – here is a copy of the letter:

Dear Mayor XXX , City Council Members and Manager XXX,

My family and I enjoy the playing at the parks that the City of Shoreview offers! However, it’s always a risk for my family to play on public equipment because our oldest son has food allergies. Last week we searched for a park that wasn’t too busy with summer programs. We finally found one! We’d been playing for about five minutes when one of the neighborhood moms called her children over to take another bite of their peanut butter sandwiches. The kids took their sandwiches and ate them on the playground….and that’s when I realized the goo on the playground equipment was peanut butter.

My son with food allergies could have gone into anaphylaxis if he had touched the peanut butter and wiped his face with his hands or put his fingers in his mouth. Our family wound up leaving the park for his safety. To be honest, before I had a child with food allergies, I was a mom who let her kids eat and then play on the playground equipment without washing their hands. I had no idea how serious food allergies could be! If someone had kindly spoken with me about the risks of cross-contamination and that it really could take a child’s life, I would have gladly changed my behavior!

According to the Food Allergy Research & Education website, 1 in 13 children has food allergies. That’s a lot of kids! I am wondering if the City of Shoreview would consider putting up a friendly reminder about food at the playgrounds in Shoreview. Maybe a sign like, “To help keep our children safe, please eat food at our designated picnic areas. Please consider cleaning hands with a water-based wipe after eating. Thank you.”

There’s always a risk to playing on public equipment for kids with food allergies, but maybe a friendly reminder would give parents and caregivers pause, and possibly start changing behaviors to help keep all children safer. Thank you for considering this request. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or comments you may have. Thank you.

The request was not approved at this time, one reason being that there were no existing signs they could easily order.  I was incredibly disheartened….I understood why they said no, but I didn’t agree with it. My husband and I prayed about it, and we were encouraged by family and friends to provide additional information and resources in case they changed their mind in the future. I sent a follow up letter:

Thank you for your reply about possibly installing signs requesting that park goers eat at picnic areas and consider cleaning their hands after eating. While I understand there are no pre-made signs of this nature, I am disheartened. Both my husband and I are elementary teachers. We’ve completed many district allergy trainings and have had at least one student in our classes with food allergies every year we’ve been teaching. We thought we understood food allergies. We were so wrong. Until we had a child with food allergies, we had no idea.

Food allergies are becoming an epidemic and many public services for children are taking action. For example, Roseville Public Schools does not use fish, shellfish, or any type of nut in meals, has soy milk and water available at meals, students wash their hands with soap and water after eating, eating on the playground at the school I teach is not allowed, snacks containing nuts are not served during before and after school childcare and after-school classes, Mounds View Public Schools request nut-free snacks, and the Community Center does not serve snacks at its hourly childcare.

Public school communities, community education, and community centers have acknowledged the need for change to help keep children safer, and have taken action. What needs to happen for community playgrounds to take action to keep children safer? 1 in 13, or approximately 8%, of children have been diagnosed by a medical professional with food allergies. That’s a staggering amount of children!

It is my responsibility, and the responsibility of all parents of children with food allergies to monitor their children, regardless of signs. That will not change. In my experience, most families with non-allergic children aren’t aware that letting their child eat on the playground can cause another child to get sick, and even possibly die. When I’ve kindly asked families if they could please eat at picnic areas (or just not on the actual equipment), they’ve been very receptive and more than willing to help keep kids safer.

If my request is reconsidered in the future, a sign similar to the one I’ve attached to this email, and an article in the Shoreview Press explaining this progressive and proactive action taken by the City would go a long way to raise awareness, and help keep all kids safer while playing on public equipment. Thank you again for looking into this request. I appreciate the time and effort you have given to considering it and the implications for our community. Thanks again.

After this second message, the City’s Buildings and Grounds Supervisor replied almost immediately that he was working with the City’s Parks Maintenance Supervisor and Street Supervisor and would put them at each park! Yeah!!! I met with him and thanked him—he’s been very willing to learn about food allergies and help keep kids safer! He’s super easy to work with and I’m so thankful that the signs were approved, made and installed so quickly!

What advice do you have for other families considering requesting signs like these? 

Ask. You don’t know until you ask. Most people want children to be as safe as possible, so already you and the City have that goal in common. Work together toward that common goal.

 

Thank you Lisa for sharing your experience on the journey to getting these new signs placed in your city parks! You have helped set an example which may help other cities to do the same thing! Food allergy families thank you! 

You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama instagramfacebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

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8 Responses to “New Playground Signs May Help Prevent Allergic Reactions”

 
  1. Heather says:

    Great work!! So the picture of the sign that you attached – does that mean you actually found one or the city made its own? I’d like to make a similar request in our city.

    • Missy says:

      Hi Heather! Lisa made a mock up of a sign using suggested language. They made the sign using her wording but slightly changed the picture at the top. Feel free to use one of these pictures to show them!

  2. Katy says:

    Yeah, love this! Shows our city cares about our kids. I appreciate learning this, as I wouldn’t have known the danger we could be causing for another family.

  3. Shelly says:

    This is so great!! When my son was younger we too left parks when kids were eating on the equipment. What a great idea to spread the word!! We live in New Brighton and they may just be heading from us soon. 🙂

    • Missy says:

      Same here, Shelly! I was always on the lookout for those little kiddos eating peanut butter. Freaked me out! Please let me know if you make any progress with your city! would love to hear!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Wow, so impressed with this proactive city. If I were to make the signs, based on my experience with a severely allergic child, I would add a third point: 3) “Please do not offer food to other children without their caregiver’s permission.” I can’t count how many times a mom or sitter thought they were being nice by offering to share a piece of chocolate or similar treat on the playground, not realizing they could have killed him.

 

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