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No peanuts? No problem. How hungry kids with allergies have nothing to fear from this pantry.

People of all income levels deserve access to food that makes them well. That's where the ReNewed Health food pantry comes in.

No peanuts? No problem. How hungry kids with allergies have nothing to fear from this pantry.
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Cheerios

The kitchen at the Neri household looks a little like an ad for The Container Store.

The family of seven has an impressive system of color-coded plates, shelves, and utensils.

But all that color coordination isn't just because the Neri family loves organization. It's because their lives depend on it.


15-year-old Nolan is allergic to nuts, corn, soy, wheat, and gluten; 10-year-old Adison is allergic to dairy; and 2-year-old Link is allergic to rice, apples, and some types of milk. With a range of potentially life-threatening allergies, mother Lisa Neri — who has her own egg, wheat, soy, corn, and dairy allergies — has to be sure that there's no cross-contamination.



Look at all that organized glory! Photo by Angie Six/Flickr.

Keeping things organized isn't the only challenge. It's been a struggle for the Neris to keep those color-coded shelves stocked with food.

As a working single mother, Lisa Neri relies on government programs like SNAP (also known as food stamps), WIC, and food pantries to help keep her family fed. But even with these supplements, she still struggles to feed a large family with a variety of dietary needs.

That's why she was so relieved when she finally found a new food pantry called ReNewed Health.

Not only does ReNewed Health provide food to families in need, but they also have tons of allergy-friendly food.

Which is a big help for this single mother.

GIF from "Happy Endings."

Access to allergy-friendly food was a game-changer for the Neris. And there was serious improvement in their lives.

Nolan's health improved, and he went from earning low Cs and getting in trouble with teachers, to earning As and Bs. He's even on track to graduate from high school early. With the improved diet, he no longer had stomach cramps that kept him up at night. He started getting better sleep and being able to focus.

Sorry. I just felt like I had to give him ALL THE AWARDS ... virtually. Cue: "We Are the Champions." Photo by pohjakroon/pixabay.

The Neris' story isn't unique. 4.1 million kids have food allergies, and that number is only growing.

More than 1 in 5 of those kids also struggles with food insecurity, which means they don't have regular access to the amount of food they need to live healthy, productive lives. A big part of that comes down to money, since allergy-friendly foods tend to be more expensive. At Walgreens, you can get a 12.4 oz can of regular powdered baby formula for about $16. But if you need hypoallergenic formula? You might have to cough up as much as $45 for 14 oz. Ridiculous, right?

That's why pantries like ReNewed Health are so important.

ReNewed Health, which opened in Overland Park, Kansas, in April, is the first of its kind in the country. But the cofounders are working hard to make sure it's not the last. Through its nonprofit organization Food Equality Initiative, they're working with other nonprofits, doctors, food pantries, and schools to educate families and lawmakers about food allergies, food insecurity, and how to effectively combat them.

ReNewed Health pantry co-founder Emily Brown knows the struggle of trying to feed children with allergies on a low income. Her young daughter is allergic to wheat, milk, eggs, soy, and tree nuts. That's why she's a part of the pantry's initiative. As she told Al Jazeera America,

"I'm determined to keep fighting for equality for everybody to have the right to safe, healthy food. The right to live a healthy life. The right to feel good and have all of the nutrition that they need to thrive in school, to do well in work."

The right to a healthy life? Now that's something I think we can all get behind.

Big thanks to ReNewed Health. Because everyone should have access to allergy-sensitive foods they need — regardless of income.

Here's to more meals that are healthy for everyone!

Bon appetit!

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

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Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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