How One Mom's Terrifying Thanksgiving Led Her to Create Allergen-Free Kid-Friendly Foods

Thanksgiving 2015 was a scary time for mom Denise Woodard, who went on to create allergen-free Partake Foods, in support of her toddler daughter Vivienne's rare condition.

Photo: Christine Chen/Moth to Flame Films

While family, friends and good food are all staples on Thanksgiving day, a trip to the emergency room should be the last thing on the menu.

But so it was for new mom Denise Woodard, who amidst her holiday celebration in 2015, had a huge scare with her then 8-month-old daughter Vivienne.

“About two hours after she finished enjoying her first Thanksgiving dinner she projectile vomited,” says Woodard. “Vivi went on to vomit 11 more times, got very lethargic, and turned an ashen gray color.” Terrified, Woodard and her husband Jeremy rushed the tot to the emergency room near their home in Jersey City, NJ, where she was diagnosed with a mere stomach bug.

But it wasn’t until months later and seven more trips to the ER, that the family found out what was really wrong with Vivienne. “She was diagnosed with a condition known as FPIES, a severe food allergy that affects the intestinal tract.” One scary meal after another, the Woodards learned Vivienne is allergic to eggs, corn, bananas, pears, tree nuts and is intolerant to gluten. Her reaction to any of these items ranges from uncontrollable vomiting to anaphylactic shock.

April Belle Photography

“Once, with a peanut and corn snack, she had trouble breathing and her lips swelled and turned blue. We had to administer two EpiPens and rush her to the hospital,” says Woodard. Though they’ve largely gotten Vivienne’s diet under control, Woodard says she’s worried for the future. “We’re looking at schools for her now and I have panic attacks thinking about snack time – will other kids offer her snacks, will people not being vigilant about her allergies.”

It’s these concerns, and the fact that she had a hard time finding safe snacks for her daughter, that inspired Woodard to dream up Partake Foods. “I couldn’t figure out how to make a gluten-free, corn-free, egg-free cookie, so I went to buy one, but couldn’t find any,” recalls Woodard. In a bold move she reached out to award-winning gluten-free chef Shauna Ahern of Gluten Free Girl with her idea. “She helped us develop recipes for the three mini cookies we have now. Our products are free of the top eight allergens, which means no peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy, gluten, meat or fish, but they still taste really good.”

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The venture is proving to be a good one: people from around the country donated over $30,000 to the Partake Foods Kickstarter campaign to help get the safe snacks into stores and online in 2017. “1 in 13 kids have food allergies and that number’s expected to grow to 1 in 10 by 2020,” says Woodard’s husband. She adds, “Eventually we hope to have a top 8 allergen-free solution for every meal and snack occasion a child has.”

Partake Foods

When it comes to families going through what theirs has, the mom has some advice. “Talk to other moms and don’t be afraid to advocate for your child,” says Woodard. “The scariest most challenging thing is how people don’t take allergies seriously. You’re not trying to make anyone else’s life harder by asking their kid not to eat something around your kid, but it’s your job to protect them.”

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