From Scared Moms to Fundraisers: How This Medical Research Push Was Born

At Inside Philanthropy, we've been coming across more funding related to food allergies. Well, there's a reason for that: Such allergies are a growing problem in the United States, now afflicting one in 12 people. And lately, philanthropy has been catching up with this alarming trend. We've written about billionaire donors like Sean Parker giving big for new research on food allergies, but there are also more ordinary people raising money for this cause.

“When my youngest daughter, Lindsey, was 11 months old, I fed her scrambled eggs with cheese. She immediately threw up then went into anaphylactic shock,” Kim Hall told Inside Philanthropy. “I had to call to 911 to save her life. We learned she’s allergic to eggs, dairy, peanuts and tree nuts.”

Elise Bates found herself sitting next to Hall at a food allergy meeting in 2013. Bates' daughter had confronted similar life-threatening emergencies caused by eggs and nuts. Food-induced anaphylactic shock now occurs 90,000 times a year in the U.S. “Think of how much of our lives revolve around these common foods, whether it’s being served nuts on plane or cake at a birthday party,” Hall said. “We don’t know why the problem is growing. Is it something in our food supply? People who have food allergies look and act like the rest of usuntil they get a reaction.” The two university-educated mothers with business backgrounds resolved to tackle the issue.

“We found a tremendous funding gap in research into food allergies,” Bates told Inside Philanthropy. “We decided to leave to others the tasks of education and advocacy. Kim and I founded End Allergies Together (EAT) to fund research into finding a cure.”

“For the last year and half, we’ve been putting our all into the organization, without taking a salary. We officially launched six months ago, in May 2015. We’ve seen the first phase as building awareness,” Hall said. “An op ed piece [on] did a lot to boost our website traffic with people using the donate button,” Hall said. Since then, EAT’s tale has generated a lot of local coverage in Connecticut on TV and in newspapers. The organization is expanding. “We’ve already put in place a Midwest director of EAT, based in Chicago.”

“Our donors are those who live with food allergies every day, who want the research to progress,” Bates said. “We’ve received funding from two private family foundations, whose names I’m not at liberty to disclose. We raised most of our funding through a gala, a panel discussion of medical and herbal experts. The space was donated, the speakers and researchers were free. The alcohol was donated. The gala gave us a chance to put a face to our organization while bringing Westchester and Fairfield Counties together. When it comes to raising funds, the personal touch does matter.” This is especially true on Connecticut's Gold Coast.

It's worth mentioning that many of the donors in the food allergy space have come to this issue for personal reasons. That includes the Jaffee family, which gave a large gift to establish a food allergy research center at Mt. Sinai in New York City. David Koch, whose son suffers from food allergies, and Sean Parker, who personally suffers from such allergies. 

Hall and Bates will be filing their first long form 990 with the IRS in May. When that’s on record, they plan to pursue more foundation support and look into tapping bequests. ““We are now trying to build a medical advisory board as we start to get research proposals through our website, In choosing whom to support, we’ll be very careful to avoid conflict of interest. We plan to grant 100 percent of what we get in donations. We can do this because our expenses have been underwritten by our families,” Bates said. “We are still a start-up. After we expand, we plan to keep giving out at least 85 percent of what we take in.“

“The number of people dealing with food allergies is staggering. It’s been really great for our families to see us put our heads down and be part of a cause that will hopefully impact so many people,” Hall said. “The work has been very satisfying.”

“When running a nonprofit, it’s so easy to get distracted.” Bates said. “At EAT, we are dedicated to funding research to find a cure for food allergies. If I have any advice to others in the nonprofit sector, it’s to keep focused on your goal.”