Candice Kleiman got such a kick out of helping older kids in her temple with their mitzva projects, she decided more than a year ago she wanted to do one, too. The fact that she still had four years to go before becoming a bat mitzva didn’t deter her at all.
The youngster had a cause very close to her heart — food allergies. Her little brothers, seven-year-old twins Alex and Zachary, have a potentially life-threatening sensitivity to certain nuts and sesame seeds. She knows they could go into anaphylactic shock if they ingest even a minute morsel of the offending foods — and that many other people face similar dangers.
In an interview at the family’s home in Florham Park, the 10-year-old explained that she decided she wanted to raise money for research into food allergies, “to help my brothers and other people like them.”
With help from her mother, Dr. Nanette Sudler, who is a clinical psychologist with the Center for Child and Family Development in Morristown, Candice came up with a simple idea. It focused on selling healthy cheese alternatives not typically found in markets in their area. Although the cheeses are fine for everyone, they are especially useful for people who are lactose intolerant. They arranged, starting in October 2008, to buy various kinds of these healthy cheese alternatives and resell them at a small mark-up.
Candice’s aim was to raise $1,000 by her 10th birthday this past October. The money is going to the Food Allergy Initiative, a nonprofit organization that funds research into the causes, treatment, and — hopefully — cures for food allergies.
Candice, a fifth-grader at Brooklake Elementary School, has been selling the cheeses to friends, neighbors, teachers, and school bus drivers and to fellow congregants at Congregation Beth Torah in Florham Park. But there were distractions along the way, and they only reached the $500 mark by her birthday. They could have called it quits then, but Candice refused. “I want to keep going until I get to my goal,” she said.
The whole Kleiman family — including father Barry Kleiman — is mitzva-minded. They have a “tree” pasted up near the kitchen, and each time a family member does something good for another, it gets written up on a leaf-shaped cut-out and put on the tree.
Candice said she knows lots of people are finding themselves sensitive to common foods. According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, to which the family belongs, food allergies affect up to 6 percent of young children and 3.5 percent of adults in the United States.
The family is fastidiously careful at school, birthday parties, and restaurants — anywhere near food. The boys, in first grade at Briarwood Elementary, are in an allergy-aware classroom, sit at a special table at lunch, and bring their own food to parties.
Their parents both carry epinephrine injectors for them, eight in all.
“It can be very scary and anxiety-provoking, and it can make the kids feel outcast and different,” Sudler said. “To counteract that, we focus on the positives whenever we can, and I’m as creative as I can be with our food.”
Candice said, “We don’t go out to eat as much as we used to, but we eat more healthy, which is a good thing.”
But caution doesn’t rule out fun. Over Hanukka, they made dreidel snacks out of marshmallows and pretzel sticks, with the letters marked on with an edible marker.
Given all the food restrictions for the boys, they have an extra refrigerator anyway, and on the day of the interview one shelf was stacked with the latest supply of the special cheeses — slices and sticks and blocks, made with soy or almonds (one of their “good” nuts) or rice. The cheeses, from Lisanatti Foods, come in flavors like mozzarella, cheddar, Swiss, and jalapeno, and can be used just like regular cheese, sliced or shredded or melted. Candice said they taste good.
Anyone interested in purchasing the products and/or supporting Candice’s project can e-mail her care of her father at firstname.lastname@example.org.