Allergy awareness: sample policy and plan now available for Arkansas churches

Though the average church member may not think about it, something as simple as a snack-sized package of peanuts can present a real danger to someone with severe food allergies. Foods that trigger allergic reactions can pose significant risks in a church environment, especially with young children.

“In Arkansas as well as nationally, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children with food-related allergies in recent years,” said Karen Swales, children’s ministry coordinator for the Arkansas Conference. “These reactions range from mild to life-threatening. Our local congregations can be proactive in preventing a medical emergency by following a few simple procedures.”  

To provide guidance for local churches, the Arkansas Conference has developed a sample Allergy Awareness Policy and Action Plan to help congregations prepare for, address and respond to the wide-ranging allergies and allergic reactions common among children.

The sample Allergy Awareness policy consists of a single page with three categories of information: 
•responsibilities of the parent or legal guardian; 
•rules outlining who may provide or purchase food for the children’s ministry environment; and 
•procedures that will be followed concerning medications and emergencies.

For example, in a church with an Allergy Awareness Policy, the first time a child participates in an activity there, the child’s parent or guardian should complete a Child Health Form. This form includes reporting on several categories of allergies, because while food may be the most likely trigger for severe allergic reactions, other allergens, such as latex, pollen or animal dander, also may appear in a church environment.

In addition to the form, any time a parent signs a child in for an activity, that parent should make a note about the allergy next to the child’s name. For nursery- and preschool-aged children, the parent also should place an allergy alert sticker on the child’s nametag.

If a child’s allergic reaction may necessitate the use an epinephrine autoinjector (sometimes referred to by the brand name “EpiPen”), the Child Health Form includes a page for a parent to complete, sign and include in a sealable bag with the child’s prescribed autoinjector.

District superintendent the Rev. Dr. Bud Reeves believes many churches have never developed any type of policy dealing with allergic reactions.

“This [policy] could prevent a disaster happening,” he said.

The sample plan and forms can be found under the Safe Sanctuaries menu at kidz.arumc.org.