Kollel Milhamta Shel Torah of Queens A Spiritual Home for Torah and Tefillah

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By: Frieda Schweky

Picture this: you’re a parent whose child has just been diagnosed with multiple food allergies. You leave the doctor's office with only the knowledge of what to avoid, given none of the education, tools, or tips it takes to handle this new situation. Sadly, this is the casewith most parents who are put in this challenging position. In the beginning, the majority of parents report feeling overwhelmed, intimidated, and alone.

About eleven years ago, community member Paulette Cohen’s daughter was diagnosed with food allergies to nuts and sesame, as well as environmental allergies and animal allergies. At the time, there wasn’t much awareness being spread about food allergies, and Paulette felt like the doctors did the bare minimum: diagnosed her daughter and sent her home. Paulette remembers feeling overwhelmed and alone in this struggle. Then she realized that the next steps were all up to her.

In a moment’s notice she was faced with the challenge of changing her life and the lives of those closest to her. Her first motivationwas to help her child, her second was to be the person who people can turn to when they are put in this trying and confusing situation.

Over the years, Paulette has done many things to benefit her community in regards to allergy awareness, tolerance, management, and more. She began a blog to document and share how she was feeling and how she dealt with certain situations. The feedback was amazing. Mothers in similar predicaments were relating to her blog and being helped by it. She also uses Instagram as a medium to spread awareness and helpful tips to whomever may need them. She goes by the clever name @thenutjobmom. One thing she always tries to do on her Instagram is to post allergy friendly snack and food options, so her followers know the latest and greatest on the market for her field. The food industry has really followed suit, and many companies are changing or are starting to produce allergy friendly products.

Blogging and social media are just a part of Paulette’s main goal, which is to help moms on an individual level. Paulette stresses that she has never charged clients money for the support, education, and personal time she puts into their case. That being said, she does spend a lot of time dealing with individual situations. When a mother reaches out, Paulette sympathizes and hears their plight, and then gets into the details of their child’s allergies. The reason she believes so strongly about helping on individual cases is that there's so much information out there and she would never want to bombard an already overwhelmed parent with more information than they need.

Another aspect of this subject is awareness. Since in many cases a child is the one with the food aversion, there are sensitivities people around them must have in order to keep them safe, both physically and emotionally. Of course, physical safety is top priority, and class mothers should be super careful what they send to school as snacks. Aside from that, children are sensitive to social cues, and a child who is different from their peers can easily feel like an outcast especially if the subject of allergies is taboo for their teachers, peers, and extended family. Spreading awareness about food, environmental, and animal allergies is the best way to combat ignorance, judgment, andcarelessness. The fact is that it is not a rare thing anymore; tons of people live with allergies. Those who don’t have allergies or know of someone who deals with them can be very removed and insensitive.

Paulette has seen much progress in the work she’s done. She’s become the go-to person in the community for advice and guidance on food allergies. Some people call her their coach or consultant, but she feels most successful when a parent reaches out to her and tells her that their lives are better because of her help.

“When I make a difference in someone’s life like that – I know I’m successful because that’s my goal,” says Paulette. “My other goals are to make changes in the community schools, restaurants, and bakeries, to make them more allergy-friendly.”

Paulette is involved with Sephardic Bikur Holim’s food allergy division. She speaks to schools and comes up with proposals on how they can improve in this area. Paulette has also started a game-changing WhatsApp group in which parents can support eachother, vent, and ask questions.

In the future, Paulette hopes to catch the issue at its source. Her dream is to work in an allergist’s office. This would be ideal so that patients who are diagnosed with multiple allergies can see her directly after seeingthe doctor. This way, before confusion even begins to set in, she is there to help them through it.

In hopes to help as many people as possible, here are Paulette’s top tips on what to do once first diagnosed with multiple allergies.