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  • Writer's pictureMarne Platt

What Can You Do? Celiacs and The War in Ukraine

I've written before about gratitude and celiac disease. Now, with a war in Europe and refugees literally outside my door, stable celiac life is taking on a whole new meaning.

You've seen these people, mostly women and children, the elderly, or the disabled, on the news. Their situations are heart-breaking. Many fled home with just the clothes on their backs. There was no time for celiacs to take safe food, and little opportunity to find it on the road.

Generous strangers offering pasta and bread mean well but...Imagine being forced to decide whether you should eat or feed your child, knowing that the food is unsafe but also knowing that it's been a long time since the last meal, and could be even longer till the next one. Imagine not knowing where your next meal was coming from, or whether it would be safe.

Most of us don't have those worries. Gratitude doesn't begin to express it.

Yes, we have a lifelong condition, and yes, it can be life-threatening if not controlled. I am not minimizing that at all. It's my reality too. But for most of us, it's a matter of strictly following the gluten-free diet, something we can (mostly) control. Not for these people.

What can we do?

The Association of European Celiac Societies is supporting collecting funds to supply safe gluten-free food to Ukrainian celiacs. You can donate money to them and they will get food to celiacs still in Ukraine. The local association in Malta has a great explanation of how it works here. (I have no connection to this or any of the organizations I mention unless noted).

My city, Basel, Switzerland, will take in somewhere around 40,000 refugees. Many are being welcomed into private homes. I registered to be a host, specifying someone with celiac disease. It's safer for both of us. I cringe at the idea of moving into someone's home and having to navigate a mixed kitchen, when you don't speak the same language. It's hard enough when you do!

We have a couple of Facebook groups helping refugees that have become quite active: Switzerland with Ukraine and Basel: Ukrainian Refugee Help and Support. I posted in each one that celiacs arriving here can contact me for safe food or a safe meal. I volunteer at a free shop run by the Basel School of Business Community Association (combination clothing exchange and food bank) for incoming Ukrainians and posted the same information there.

As a member of the celiac community, I encourage you to reach out. Contact your local celiac association and ask what they are doing. Contact the Association of European Coeliac Societies.

If you are in a country taking in refugees, consider offering someone a temporary home. Look for local groups to which you can donate goods instead of money.

Ask specifically about the needs of celiacs. You might get a blank look at first, but we are expert advocates, right? Explain, educate, advocate.

Stand together. As celiacs. As human beings.

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