#FeelGoodFriday: Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo Hits Home

For millions of Americans, planning meals around their allergies is a daily struggle; checking every single ingredient to ensure nothing can trigger a dangerous reaction. From opting for peanut-free Red Sox games to carrying an Epi-pen, one can never be too careful when it comes to protecting themselves from a food that can pose a serious threat. As someone who has spent her entire life being allergic to tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc.), my brand new diagnosis of “gluten intolerance” and an allergy to soy was a pain and I had literally no idea where to begin. DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY THINGS HAVE GLUTEN AND SOY IN THEM? SUSHI WITH NO SOY SAUCE? The horror!

Lucky for me and everyone else who wants to feel good, right Worcester events like the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo have been working hard to shed some light on safe, delicious options.

“All of the samples at the event have the allergens indicated on them. So let’s say that you are somebody that can’t eat gluten, but you also maybe can’t eat dairy and soy. You can find that here,” says Jen Cafferty, Founder of the Gluten Free & Allergy Friendly Expo.

Companies like Smart Flour have gone the extra mile to make sure fast, tasty options are available that are safe from several common allergies including peanuts, gluten and soy. “Let’s see. We are rice free, egg free, nut free, soy free which is huge. Then we do sell our crust separately which is dairy free and certified non-GMO,” says Tonya Phillips, Marketing Coordinator at Smart Flour. As she offered me a slice of pizza, she commented on the “crunch” it made. “Did you hear that crunch when you bit it?” she asked. “Like I tell everybody: even if you’re not gluten free, it’s a healthier way to eat pizza. So you have mixed households a lot where 2/5 people are gluten free so then the other ones end up having to eat gluten free anyway and they’re like, ‘I’m never having that pizza again!’ This one that the whole family can enjoy.”

 Just in case you’re out with friends or traveling and in a pinch, the Gluten Free Media Group also offers a handy app and website that tells you where you can find local gluten free restaurants in your area: http://www.FindMeGlutenFree.com. A couple of local places I’ve found in my travels bouncing between Boston and Martha’s Vineyard are Wolf Den Pizza in Edgartown and Blaze Pizza here in Boston. They both have a gluten free, soy free, nut free crust, but always call and ask to check labels. If they use Udi’s, it’s safe from gluten, soy and nuts.

#FeelGoodFriday: Thrive Support & Advocacy Hosts FREE Fun Fest!

On Saturday, July 15th, Thrive Support & Advocacy held its annual Thrive Fun Fest in Hudson and it was absolutely perfect. (**PAUSE**: For those who have no idea what “Thrive” is, they’re a support & advocacy group for those with special needs and disability that serves as an outlet for them to explore their passions, dreams, and learn how to be the best version of themselves. They’re based in MetroWest Massachusetts, but are happy to welcome anyone who comes to them.)

Volunteers, members and supporters all enjoyed an afternoon filled with activities such as mini golf, face painting, raffles, dancing, and even a dunk tank. “All of us have abilities, all of us have dreams, all of us have a life that we want to live. What we really do is to help some people who need a little assistance getting to the same starting point that everyone else enjoys,” says Mike Rodrigues, President & CEO of Thrive.  “(The festival is) really a day for all of us as a community to get together.”

There was one boy in particular who stood out to me wearing a shirt that read “Autistic Kingdom”, who came up as soon as he saw the camera come on and was very excited to learn about what I was doing with it. “I am a celebrity in my own right,” he said directly into the camera, happy to be filmed and talk with me about his favorite parts of the festival. He explained to me how Thrive has encouraged him to explore his gifts; detailing his many talents (including his love of writing). This boy is just one of many that Thrive has been able to help along the way, and I met dozens of others each with a unique history with the group that prove just how happy this organization makes so many people.

How can you help support Thrive? Visit http://www.icanthrive.org to learn more about volunteering, donating, and how you can help others Thrive.

#FeelGoodFriday: Fresh Start Furniture Bank Receives Large Donation

For Fresh Start Furniture Bank in Hudson, every day is a new opportunity to help a local family in need of making a house a home. On Tuesday Long Automative was kind enough to give those who put so much work into helping others a hand themselves. In celebration of their 90th anniversary, Long Automotive is offering a $10,000 grant to one lucky charitable organization, and Fresh Start Furniture Bank is one of the 10 finalists. Going above and beyond, Long also agreed to donate 100 pillows to Fresh Start as it is one of their most needed items.
“Many of these people, if you’re just starting off, and you don’t furniture-you don’t have pillows,” says Sue Wadby, Director of Fresh Start Furniture Bank. “You’re sleeping on an air mattress on the floor with nothing. If you don’t have a pillow, how do you have a good night’s sleep? If you don’t have a good night’s sleep, how are you a good student? How are you a productive citizen? How do you go to work?”Fresh Start Furniture Bank started in April of 2013, and with the help of now over 75 active volunteers and over 230 agencies offering referrals, the team is able to provide a fresh start to families in need. Wadby, her husband Jeff and their team take the time and care to collect donations, process them, repair any items damaged in transit, and keep the showroom organized.
“We give one fresh start,” Wadby says. “After that, they have to get their feet beneath them because otherwise the same people will keep coming back and there’s no way to break that cycle of poverty.” Wadby explains that their passion is being able to offer others a second chance, from Veterans both young and old to victims of fire, mental illness, and those fallen on financial hardship. To learn more about how you can volunteer or donate to Fresh Start Furniture Bank, visit freshstartfurniturebank.org.

Out & About on Martha’s Vineyard

It’s no secret that Martha’s Vineyard has been a premier New England destination for decades (anyone who’s ever taken the ferry on a Friday can tell you that), and lately the Steamship Authority has had quite the time trying to accommodate the copious amounts of travelers back and forth. From notorious stars like Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and many notable Presidents and members of Congress, anyone who’s anyone knows that MV is the place to be if you’re looking for a getaway. It’s the kind of place where everyone still dresses themselves and their little ones to the 9’s in their best Lilly Pulitzer (expect ALL of the Vineyard Vines pullovers and boat shoes), the shops and boutiques will find you something unique to bring home and brag about, and really there is not a bad view from anywhere you stand. It was no surprise when my co-host, Zoe Zandora, agreed to take a weekend with me to have this as our very first location for WMCT’s newest segment “Out & About”.

Follow us as we take you from the infamous light house on Lighthouse Beach to the vast orchards of Morning Glory Farms, and into Bad Martha’s Brewery to go behind the scenes with their Head Brewer, Jacobi Reid.