Updated: Sep 19
by Sheryl Harpel and Hemali Gauri
Hemali Gauri, Founder of K12Allergies, is a high school junior committed to food allergy education and awareness. Her organization, K12Allergies, provides an online community for food allergy parents to share their personal journeys and support each other. I talked with the Arkansas student, who is allergic to eggs and garlic, to learn more.
What has your personal food allergy journey been like, Hemali?
At seven, I started breaking out into eczema/hives all over my body. These flairs would increase on some days and decrease on others. With the help of our physician, my family figured out that these were allergies, but it was a mystery what the allergen could be. After inconclusive skin prick and blood tests, my parents set out on a lengthy elimination diet, removing specific allergens from my diet over weeks at a time and tracking my breakouts in a food journal. They discovered I was allergic to eggs quickly and after a few months, with numerous series of eliminations, came to the conclusion that I was also allergic to garlic.
Tell us about your work for the food allergy community.
I’ve created a comprehensive source for parents of children with food allergies at K12Allergies.com. We've collected advice and stories from food allergy parents through the diagnosis, living with, and potentially outgrowing, stages of their children’s food allergy journeys, which are all searchable by allergen, reaction, or treatment. There’s also a resources page with over twenty featured organizations, ranging from a device that tracks kids’ EpiPen locations to an “allergy ID card'' translated into different languages to make traveling with food allergies easier. I’m also very engaged in promoting K12Allergies through social media, reaching over four thousand individuals on Instagram and attracting hundreds of site visitors.
My passion for raising food allergy education and awareness doesn’t stop online. I’ve partnered with the Hedberg Clinic in Northwest Arkansas to decrease misinformation about food allergies by posting interviews with local professionals.
I help coordinate a food allergy-friendly Halloween event at the Fayetteville Public Library. Currently, I’m hosting an allergy-friendly drive for our local food bank. I’m also planning Epinephrine Training and Food Allergy Awareness talks in local public elementary schools.
What motivates you?
I was inspired by my family’s experiences with food allergies in a small town. My parents didn’t know anyone with food allergies or about available online resources. There was no one to support them, no one I could relate to. A Google search on children’s food allergies just showed generic information. During the initial months of the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, when I was isolated at home, the thought of having a resource for parents with kids suffering from various food allergies came to my mind. I decided to reach out to food allergy families asking them to share their experiences of diagnosing their own children's allergies and share suggestions for other parents. I received so much positive feedback about my idea of creating an online community for food allergy parents that I created the website K12Allergies.com. Since then, I’ve been motivated by the amount of good I can do in my local community of Northwest Arkansas and online.
Was it hard to create a food allergy organization as a high school student?
I definitely faced many challenges, from continuous website breaks to a lack of knowledge about how to incorporate a nonprofit and write bylaws. Sometimes people look at age as an indicator of how much you’ll be able to accomplish, which is wrong. Just because I’m a young person, doesn’t mean I can’t make a positive impact in my community. Usually, people are willing to help me because they see my drive at such a young age.
Advice for those who also want to make a difference?
Just start. However you can get involved - just start there. It doesn’t have to be creating your own organization as the first step. Progress happens over time, the weeks, months, and years you put in. And after beginning, your motivation becomes sparked by how
much good you can do. Also, reach out to people over email, usually they want to help you. Don’t be discouraged by a lack of progress. Work to make the world a better place and fulfill your mission. There have been so many times I’ve been frustrated about one-sided communications and lost opportunities, but then I remind myself about the opportunities I’ve gotten, about all the things K12Allergies has been able to do and that has motivated me to continue.
How can people connect with you?
I would encourage everyone to check out my website K12Allergies.com, and share your food allergy/celiac story to help future food allergy parents on their journey! You can also follow me @K12Allergies on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with my advocacy work.
Thank you, Hemali, for all of your efforts for the food allergy community!
We also believe in the power of sharing personal journeys. College students with food allergies or celiac disease, share YOUR story -- complete our GFF College Dining Survey!
Founder, Gluten Free Friends
Hemali has been featured on:
National Public Radio station's KUAF Community spotlight January 27, 2023
5 News KFSM Educate Arkansas September 15, 2022
Be(A)ware Allergy Friendly Halloween Facebook November 1, 2022