Jared Saiontz has had to carefully watch what he’s eaten his entire life because of 26 life-threatening food allergies.
With thousands more people forced to use area food pantries during the pandemic, the seventh-grader at Chappaqua’s Robert E. Bell Middle School asked his mother, Stacey, at dinner one night whether pantries provided allergy-safe food for people who have those dietary restrictions.
Last fall, they reached out to the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry at the United Methodist Church, which is within walking distance of Bet Torah, where the family attends synagogue, and inquired whether there was a need for donations for the food allergic.
“We asked them and they said they didn’t have food allergy protocols but they were excited for us to help them create them,” Jared Saiontz said.
Over the past six months, Saiontz has been on a mission to help fill the pantry for clients and their family members that suffer from the most common food allergies with gluten-, nut- and dairy-free products. He has created laminated posters written in English and Spanish with photos referencing the main allergens – dairy, eggs, wheat, fish and shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts and soy.
The FASTER Act, which Congress recently approved and which was signed by President Joe Biden, makes sesame the ninth major allergen and requires food packaging to contain information about ingredients that most commonly cause anaphylactic food reactions by 2023.
This week, which is Food Allergy Awareness Week, Saiontz and fellow Chappaqua students at Bell and Seven Bridges middle schools and Grafflin Elementary School, which he attended, are bringing in allergy-safe foods that will be donated to the Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry. Collections will continue for the remainder of the month, Saiontz said.
Bet Torah and Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua are also collecting food to donate.
Roberta Horowitz, the pantry’s director of operations and programs, said Saiontz’s efforts have made a difference for those who need to be careful. While only a handful of families out of the roughly 420 clients who use the pantry each week require special food for a household member, she said the pantry is building awareness among its clientele and there could be more who need the special products.
In addition to the poster, Saiontz created fliers that the pantry is now putting in each bag letting recipients know there are products that are safe for those suffering from food allergies.
Making the process more challenging is that since the start of the pandemic volunteers must pre-pack the food for pickup, rather than having families browse the pantry, Horowitz said. Staff has to know in advance whether clients need allergy-safe food. However, the pantry is now addressing a need in the community that had gone unmet.
“It makes me very happy that we can do that and I really applaud Jared for bringing it to our attention and wanting to do something,” Horowitz said. “It’s such a part of his life.”
Stacey Saiontz said from the time Jared was a baby his body was covered with hives and he would vomit after a feeding. She had a feeling something was wrong because Saointz’s older son had none of those symptoms.
When he was four months old, she brought him to an allergist, and while testing for allergies before a child turns a year old may not always be reliable, it was determined that he had multiple food allergies, Saiontz said.
Jared’s latest work to help people with food allergies is critical for families that would have trouble affording allergy-safe food because it is typically much more expensive. He has also been instrumental in having legislation mandating schools in New York State have a supply of epinephrine available as allergies have become more prevalent and allow school bus drivers to administer shots.
Saiontz said it was important for him that he was instilled from a young age to do what he can to help others.
“He can make a difference, he can make everybody’s life better,” Sainontz said. “He shouldn’t feel sorry for himself.”
Jared Saointz said helping the pantry has been a gratifying experience.
“Not only is it good for me, like I feel happy, everyone else will be happy, too,” he said. “It’s less problems for them and it makes life easier.”
Anyone interested in helping to stock the Mount Kisco Food Pantry with allergy-safe food donations, see the list of food at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/DSLI9OSGFNN?ref_=wl_share. For more information about the pantry, visit www.mountkiscofoodpantry.org.