EVANSVILLE

Among the fall colors of brown, red and orange, a few bright spots of teal can be seen on porches across the country.

The teal-colored pumpkins are not there for aesthetic appeal, but for a cause.

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a nationwide campaign by Food Allergy Research & Education to include children with food allergies in Halloween festivities, according to the organization’s website.

Participating households place teal-colored pumpkins in front of their houses to show trick-or-treaters they have nonfood treats available in case children have food allergies.

Bridget Rolek has displayed teal pumpkins in front of her Evansville home for two years and will again this month, she said.

Her son, Sam Rolek, uses a feeding tube and cannot eat anything by mouth. That made her aware that there are other kids who have difficulties with food.

Bridget said she learned about the project through a Facebook page and wanted to participate, understanding the difficulties families face when children have allergies or feeding issues.

“When you’re a kid, Halloween is a big deal,” she said. “To not be able to participate would really be a bummer.”

At age 11, Sam isn’t interested in trick-or-treating anymore, his mom said. But when he was younger, it was hard for him to reach front doors in his wheelchair—and hard for him to accept treats.

Bridget offers small toys such as pencils, bubbles, rings, necklaces or other items to trick-or-treaters. She also mixes in wrapped candy so kids can decide what kind of treat they want.

Buying pumpkins

Some project participants paint their pumpkins teal. Others buy them pre-painted or buy plastic teal pumpkins.

Bridget bought hers last year from Boo’s Pumpkin Patch, 12411 W. County M, Evansville.

Business owner Shelley Wittman Bisch said she plans to offer teal pumpkins for sale by the end of the week.

Bisch’s family has operated the patch for about 18 years and started selling teal pumpkins last year. Bisch has six children, and many of their friends have food allergies. That motivated her to start painting the orange fruits.

She estimates she sold about 35 teal pumpkins last season.

The Bisch family does not see trick-or-treaters at their door because of their location, Bisch said, but she is glad to help others participate in the project.

Food allergies

About one in every 13 children in the United States suffers from a food allergy, said Dr. Dan Beardman, a pediatrician at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.

Increases in food allergies can be attributed to a lack of exposure to allergens, Beardman said.

“Early exposure is actually a good thing for our immune system,” he said.

True food allergies often cause children to break out in hives and experience trouble breathing, otherwise known as anaphylaxis, Beardman said. Anaphylaxis is most commonly triggered by peanuts, tree nuts or shellfish.

Parents often confuse intolerance of certain foods—commonly milk, eggs and wheat—with allergies, Beardman said. But if a food causes a child to feel discomfort, it is still a good idea to avoid it.

Many instances of food intolerance are discovered at a young age, Beardman said, but many people can “grow out of” the intolerance later in life as the immune system calms down.

However, true food allergies rarely go away, he said.

He urges parents to never be embarrassed or ashamed when their children have food allergies.

In social settings, it is important to make it known when a child has allergies or if foods contain ingredients with well-known allergens, he said.

After trick-or-treating, Beardman advises parents to check if treats are in sealed wrappings and read labels for ingredients that might be hazardous to their children.

For some kids, few candies are safe to eat, which is why Bridget thinks it is important for children to have options.

“I want every kid in the community to be able to enjoy Halloween,” she said.

As Halloween approaches, signs will be posted around Evansville with the addresses of houses with teal pumpkins, Bridget said.

Food Allergy Research & Education’s website offers an interactive map that shows participating houses. Participants can register their houses on the website at no cost.

Reporter - Albany, Brodhead, Evansville, Footville, Orfordville, health

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