One Montrealer’s quest to tackle food insecurity for those with celiac disease

With food prices rising, and more and more Canadians turning to food banks for help, those who also have dietary restrictions or allergies are struggling to get meals on the table. Food banks are also having a hard time meeting those needs.

One Montrealer is trying to help.

Francine Romano, with help from the Canadian Celiac Association, has set up gluten-free food donation boxes in stores around the city.

“What about the celiac community? Who’s looking out for them? Already our food is expensive to begin with, it’s extremely expensive,” she said.

Released this week, Canada’s Food Price Report estimates Canadians will be paying between five and seven per cent more for food this year. If you are gluten-free, costs will be even higher.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can be triggered by gluten. There’s no treatment – except to avoid gluten altogether.

“Celiac disease is not a fad diet, it’s not a fashion,” Romano said.

“It’s an autoimmune disease and we don’t need that added pressure of food costs. It’s our medicine, it’s the only way to remain healthy.”

Food banks struggle to meet rising demand

In downtown Montreal, St. Michael’s Mission has been running a food bank for the past 93 years.

Lately, there have been more and more people asking about the availability of gluten-free goods.

For Mission CEO Chantal Laferrière, ensuring nobody goes without food, regardless of their dietary restrictions, is a struggle.

“I will try as best I can to have those types of food available for the people who do have special needs but it’s almost impossible,” she said.

“I couldn’t even give them a complete [grocery] bag of those products. I don’t have them.”

The Mission, like many food banks in Quebec, has partnerships with businesses and other providers to fill their pantry.

One of them is Avril, the health food store chain, which does provide gluten-free options. More, though, is needed.

St. Michael’s Mission CEO Chantal Laferrière says it’s hard to provide for people with particular diets, but they try to help any way they can (Sarah Leavitt/CBC News)

Tackling celiac food insecurity

Romano says every action counts, and even only a few donation boxes can make a big difference.

She’s calling her campaign ‘Eating Together’ and has included information from the Canadian Celiac Association’s own campaign meant to tackle the issue of food insecurity for those who need to go gluten free.

“Many ordinary people, during the pandemic, found that they could not afford things,” said Margaret Duthie, the coordinator of the Canadian Celiac Association’s Quebec support group.

“People with celiac cannot manage if they don’t have the means to obtain the food they need.”

One of the gluten-free donation boxes for drop-off at Glutena grocery story, in St. Leonard. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC News)

Romano met Duthie through the support group and working together, they’ve enlisted six food banks across Montreal to accept the donations.

“I realized it could be a struggle for so many and that’s why this year I said, ‘you know what, I need to do something,'” Romano said.

Right now, boxes can be found at Glutena in St. Leonard and Susie Sans Gluten in Laval, with the hope of more boxes to come.

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