I just returned from San Jose last night, where the Bay Area FARE Walk/Run for Food Allergy in honor of BJ Hom was held. This event alone raised nearly $120,000 for food allergy research and awareness. Over 800 families affected by food allergies attended the walk, and enjoyed presentations by CA State Senator Jim Beall, NBC News Bay Area Laura Garcia Cannon, and San Jose Vice Mayor Madison Nguyen. Steven Powell US Navy 1st Class Petty Officer sang an incredibly moving “Tears in Heaven”, as well as awesome performances by food allergy musician Kyle Dine, American Idol Season 11 finalist DeAndre Kamele Brackensick and many, many others. Brian Hom, his amazing and beautiful family, and all the incredible volunteers who made yesterday an enormous success deserve our deepest gratitude. As most of you know The Hom family lost their son BJ in 2008 from anaphylaxis, and Brian has devoted his time and life to raising money for allergy research and awareness. He’s a remarkable man.
I had the great honor to also meet many of the Bay Area families whose lives are affected by food allergy. One family in particular came over to my table where I was greeting families and signing books. As soon as I saw her, I knew exactly who she was, but she reached out her hand anyway and introduced herself and her husband as Joanne and Louis Giorgi. Oh my God, I thought. I MUST go over and hug her tight, from one mother to another. And hug her husband, as one parent to another. I thought, what could I ever say to a mother who lost her beautiful daughter just months ago? What do I say to a woman whose daughter’s last words to her were “I’m sorry” before dying right before her eyes? Her eyes….that’s what I looked through for the strength to say something when I didn’t know what I could possibly say to ease her horrific pain.
“I’m incredibly sorry”, I said to her. She looked so strong, so resilient, so brave. “Thank you”, she said, and admitted it was a tough day for her and her family. I looked over at her husband, who had the same look of heartbreak in his eyes. I looked back over at Joanne, and saw her own eyes well up with tears. I just had to tell her in that moment what was deep in my heart; that I am forever grateful for the courage she and her family have shown in educating others about what happened to their sweet daughter Natalie. That I can’t stop thinking about Natalie, and how her tragic story will inevitably save lives. The lives of OUR children. Right then I opened my cookbook to the photo of John, and said “this is my son John. He has the same allergies as your daughter. I know he is always one accident away from the same tragedy as Natalie’s. I’m scared, and heartbroken, because your daughter’s death reminds me to never forget what work MUST be done by the rest of us to raise food allergy awareness. As a mother, I am so DEEPLY sorry for what you are facing”. Tears, tears and more tears shared between two mothers.
With tears in our glassy eyes, I promised Joanne I will do everything I can to help her with the Natalie Giorgi Sunshine Foundation. I will work even harder to knock down doors in our schools to enact laws and policies in schools that will keep our food allergy kids safe AND included in their classrooms. I will use my voice to speak for those who can’t. I promised Joanne that we will never forget Natalie and what her life meant to all of us. It was incredibly brave of Joanne and Louis to be at that walk yesterday, in the company of so many families who struggle with food allergies. They were there yesterday to not only represent Natalie’s life, but to represent all of US.
The rest of US have a responsibility to Natalie Giorgi to use the voice within us. We must speak as loudly as we can for our children. We all have the ability to make a real difference in our schools. We mustn’t expect others to fight for us. We must do whatever we can to hold our children’s schools accountable. Schools are in the business for our children. Bottom line. I don’t care about extra paperwork, administrative hurdles or school politics that so many say are the road blocks to change. It is irrelevant to me. Our children’s well-being comes before all else. And most of all, don’t ever listen to someone who says to you, “Things will never change”. Or “You can’t”. Instead, say “I will”. We owe it to families like the The Giorgi’s, The Hom’s and The Shannon’s to NEVER GIVE UP on educating and raising awareness. May God Bless the angels in heaven who will guide us every step of the way.