To the Editor:
I was deeply saddened to hear of the sudden resignation of B.J. Pettegrow from her position as head cook at Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor. While Pemetic hosts a number of excellent teachers and staff who teach, support and encourage Southwest Harbor’s young people, B.J. stands out as being one of the most compassionate people who touched our family’s lives while our son Connor went through her lunch line from kindergarten through 8th grade.
Connor had severe food allergies from an early age, and we learned to manage his allergies at each step of his development. Like many families affected by food allergies, we understood the potential risks of every food item Connor ingested.
We traveled to find the right doctors for Connor, and despite a couple scary and very real anaphylactic reactions, we were able to control his condition. More important than any of that, though, in those early years, we were working to teach Connor how to take care of his own needs in whatever setting he was in.
When he was heading into Pemetic, we realized what a huge issue it would be for him and us to try to make hot lunches available. B.J. Pettegrow met us at the door ready to address our needs with respect, compassion and understanding. The thing about food allergies is that they need constant monitoring – something seemingly as simple as a BBQ sauce one day can be perfectly safe, and the next, it can contain a new ingredient and therefore a potential allergen – even when it comes from the same manufacturer. In the early grades, Connor would join one of us as we met with B.J. Monday mornings to have a quick look at the week’s menu and decide what he wanted. Then she would check all of the ingredients for each meal.
That’s a lot of reading very small print, very long lists. She was careful, precise and committed. She, working closely with Ellen Strout, was able to provide Connor the ability to enjoy a regular hot lunch at school whenever he wanted. They modified recipes, saved out different portions for him, and in so many other ways on a daily basis, kept his health and well being paramount in their minds. If there was ever a question about an ingredient, either Ellen or B.J. would call us directly to check.
We cannot thank them enough for their diligence and commitment.
For us, one of the most significant parts of raising a child with a food allergy, or any medical condition, is to teach them how to manage it independently across any life setting. As Connor matured and was able to monitor his own relationship with B.J. and Ellen, they talked to him about what he needed, and they listened and responded appropriately when he had questions. It was not ever B.J.’s or Ellen’s or the school’s responsibility to be the guardians of Connor’s food intake; rather, it was his and our responsibility to work with them, the setting and the situation, and respectfully try to navigate what we wanted.
I am so sorry for the families that will come after us that B.J. will not be there to help them as they learn to navigate such a critical medical issue in a real world setting. She will be missed.