Parents of children with unique challenges always want to be strong advocates for their kids. Whether it’s talking to a child’s teacher about the special needs of a child with a rare disease or standing up to bullies, a parent is the child’s first and best advocate.
One mom from Tennessee never imagined though, that by simply painting a pumpkin teal one Halloween, she would start a movement.
In 2012, Becky Basalone, Founder and Executive Director of FACET (Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee), Inc., painted a pumpkin the recognized color for food allergy awareness and handed out non-food items at a Halloween event in her community. From there, the idea of placing a teal pumpkin to make parents aware that a trick-or-treating stop has allergy-safe treats available took off.
“Social media has had a huge impact on the success of the Teal Pumpkin Project,” Becky said. “The first teal pumpkin event was shared between food allergy support group leaders, to their membership, and then nonprofit organizations and advocacy groups took notice. We would have still launched a national media campaign but it would have taken years to accomplish what we can now do in just a few weeks.”
To Becky’s point, in just a few short years from the time she first painted a pumpkin teal, major retailers got on board with the idea. Now, customers at stores such as Target, CVS and Michaels can find teal pumpkins for sale. “It is absolutely thrilling to walk into a store and see that,” Becky said. “When my child was first diagnosed, I was actually searching for products like this that I could buy and gift to someone else and, in turn, point them to an educational resource or website.”
Retailers not only carry products such as foam teal pumpkins but also teal treat buckets and large inflatable teal pumpkins. The Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) has an entire page on its website dedicated to the Teal Pumpkin Project that includes resources such as printable signs, ideas for non-food treats, and a map where people participating can let other families know how to find their house on Halloween.
“Many people have worked tirelessly for years to ensure that the Teal Pumpkin Project remains relevant and mission-driven,” Becky said. “It is a wonderful feeling to see families, businesses and communities embrace the Teal Pumpkin Project. I envisioned a world that would empower children with food allergies and help them to self-advocate without fear of stigma or ridicule.”
Becky encourages other parents of children facing their own unique challenges, no matter what they are, to keep working hard for their sons and daughters. “Parenting is hard. My advice to parents of children with unique challenges is to never give up hope, keep fighting for your child to live his or her best life, and understand that you are not alone in this journey. Reach out and connect with others. You are the greatest influence in how your child approaches his or her challenges, it is important to have a healthy mindset so that you may teach your child how to thrive.”