You know all those gluten-free foods you see popping up on your local supermarket shelves?
You may have thought they were part of some new fad diet. But for about 34,500 people in the greater Boston area – and about 215 right here in Norwood – they’re an absolute necessity.
That’s because a gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that damages the small intestine, interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food – and can cause a host of serious complications, ranging from stunted growth in children to osteoporosis, liver disease, and cancer.
Unfortunately, gluten-free foods are extremely expensive. All the gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye has to be removed, and completely separate manufacturing facilities are required to prevent cross-contamination.
As a result, a cake mix can cost $4.50. A box of elbow macaroni, $3. A loaf of bread, $6 or $7. So you wind up paying two and a half, four, or even six times as much as you would for regular products.
That can be a real problem for families already struggling to get by in today’s troubled economy. But recently, the Ecumenical Community Food Pantry of Norwood has partnered with Pierce’s Pantry to help find a solution.
Pierce’s Pantry is the brainchild of Pierce Keegan, an 11th grade student from Wayland, who began raising money for Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger six years ago – about the same time he was diagnosed with celiac disease.
“On about mile nine of the Walk for Hunger in May of 2010,” he says, “I asked my mom where someone with celiac disease would be able to get gluten-free food if they were in need. She didn’t know.”
Shortly after that, Pierce swung into action and talked to his family about starting a gluten-free food bank. The result is Pierce’s Pantry, which opened in January of 2011 and specializes in providing safe food to people in need who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, a related condition estimated to affect about 15 percent of Americans.
In a little over a year, Pierce has collected about 4,500 pounds of shelf-stable gluten-free foods, including cereal, pasta, bread, baking mixes, protein bars, cookies, and more – plus gluten-free pies for holiday baskets. These have been distributed to seven area food pantries, who have teamed up to pass them on to people who might not otherwise be able to afford the special diet they need to maintain good health.
Pierce has also signed on 24 manufacturers and distributors as sponsors, including such well known names as Cabot Cheese, King Arthur Flour, and Market Basket. And he continues to seek more.
“He’s truly a remarkable young man,” says Ruth Taeger, Executive Director of the Norwood Food Pantry. “We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with Pierce’s Pantry and have provided our volunteers with special training in the handling and storage of gluten-free products.
“We’re also pleased to announce that we can help not only Norwood residents – but people from other communities who have a medical need for gluten-free food. It doesn’t matter if you have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or if your child has been prescribed a gluten-free diet for autism. All that’s needed is a signed letter from your doctor or dietician.”
Currently, the Norwood Food Pantry is serving both Norwood neighbors and clients from as far away as Dorchester. If you know someone who needs this kind of help, please have them call 781-769-0425 for more information.
It could make a huge difference in their health and quality of life.