N.C. FACES started up about eight years ago after a mother with a child with food allergies put an ad in Carolina Parent magazine seeking other parents facing the same struggles.
A small group began meeting for informal playdates. It was a place where their kids weren't the only ones with food allergies, a place where everybody understood what the others were going through.
The gathering gradually morphed into something more formal and N.C. FACES was born. The group, which stands for Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely, now includes social events, along with education and support. More than 200 families are members. (You might remember that I wrote about them earlier this year when one of their leaders won an award).
"It's been a huge group effort through the years," says Trish Gavankar, an N.C. FACES cofounder whose daughter Marysa has multiple food allergies. She tells me many people have helped to make the group what it is today.
N.C. FACES is gearing up for the second annual Raleigh Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network Walk, a two-mile walk to raise money for food allergy research. Last year, more than 300 walkers participated and more than $22,000 was raised. Some of the money goes toward research into allergies at Duke Medicine where some of the kids involved in N.C. FACES seek treatment in clinical trials.
The walk starts at 9 a.m. Oct. 23 at Bond Park, 801 High House Rd. in Cary.
Gavankar and N.C. FACES member and walk chairwoman Jennifer Pickus, whose son has peanut and tree nut allergies, said that an initial allergy diagnosis can be jarring. Gavankar remembers walking the aisles of Whole Foods in tears searching for something her daughter could eat.
"When it happens, you do get this sense of isolation because you don't know what to do next," she tells me.
That's where N.C. FACES has come in. The moms tell me they've been able to get the support and information they need. And their kids realize they are far from alone in dealing with food allergies. According to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, about one in 25 Americans has food allergies.
The walk is "great for the kids," Pickus said. "It's great for them to be in that community of food allergy supporters."
You can sign up now for the walk or register the morning of Oct. 23. Check the website for details. And watch the video to hear more from Gavankar and Pickus about the walk and N.C. FACES.