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Villanova’s Gluten Free Club

Courtesy of @villanovagfclub on Instagram.
Join Villanova’s Gluten Free Club.

A group of Villanova students is working hard to ensure that gluten-free dining is as stress-free as possible.

The Villanova Gluten-Free Club is an organization on campus for students with any type of gluten intolerance, offering a safe space for them to connect with one another.

The club was officially founded in the spring of 2022 by President Belle Wronko, a junior nursing student, and Vice President Nick Kennedy, a senior math and education double major. Wronko and Kennedy founded this club in order to combat the stress they felt when coming to campus for the first time and having to eat in communal dining halls.

“You’re already transitioning from your high school to college,” Wronko said. “You’re already trying to make friends [and] you’re trying to get into the swing of school. It’s definitely an added stress, and that was something that I really wanted to be able to change.”

Kennedy faced particularly difficult challenges during his first year at Villanova, as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I was a freshman, it was our first full year back from COVID, and it was just a mess,” Kennedy said. “I didn’t know what I could eat. People with food allergies can actually go directly to a chef and ask them to make food specifically off the line, [but] that wasn’t told to me. I just didn’t even know that I could be my own advocate.”

Wronko and Kennedy want to make sure that no one experiences the same hardships they did. Their mission is to let students with gluten intolerances know that they can be their own advocates and provide them with the courage needed to raise their voices and demand meals that are safe and healthy for them.

“There are changes that need to be made,” Wronko said. “Before we started, [we would] all try to make our own personal advocacy. As a group, we could have a stronger voice together.”

“A lot of the people in the club are somewhat relatively recently diagnosed,” Kennedy said. “For them, it’s not just coming to college. It’s also coming to college and negotiating a whole new diet, so that’s another layer of importance [as to] why this club needs to be there for them.”

During Villanova Gluten-Free Club meetings, members get the chance to share any difficult experiences they have had while trying to find gluten-free meals, recommend gluten-free options on and off campus and take part in various activities. Some activities organized by the club have included a movie night and a trip to Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia.

In addition, gluten-free food is provided for the club’s members at each meeting, one of Kennedy’s favorite aspects of the organization. Recently, the club has gotten food from Insomnia Cookies and Lovebird.

“We provide food, and you know that it’s all gluten-free,” Kennedy said. “There’s no need to even consider your allergies and have that awareness and that mental protection. When you walk into a dining hall, you have to be very much on your toes. It’s a very active and potentially stressful situation. When you walk into one of our meetings, all of that can just melt. It’s like you’re back home [and] in your gluten-free kitchen.”

Wronko, Kennedy and the rest of the club also frequently contact members of Villanova Dining Services to ensure the safety of meals if anyone with a gluten intolerance has an issue on campus. 

“The people who work here really are very passionate about their jobs,” Wronko said. “I’ve always had really positive experiences with the chefs [and] with the employees, but a lot of improvements can be made, and that is something that we also want to achieve in this club.”

Gail Mitchell, Chef-Nutritionist of Villanova Dining Services, wants to make sure that there are safe options available for all students who have certain dietary restrictions.

“We deeply value student feedback and are eager to consider any suggestions the club may have to enhance their dining experience on campus,” Mitchell said.

The club is open to all students who wish to spread awareness about gluten intolerance and don’t have to be intolerant themselves.

“There are a lot of people heavily affected by someone having celiac or a gluten intolerance” Wronko said. “They’re aware of it. They want to support their friend.”

To become a member of the club, students can follow @villanovagfclub on Instagram and fill out the interest form in the bio. The club also appeared at the involvement fair in August, which was one of Wronko’s favorite experiences as a member. She takes great pride in meeting students who are very excited to learn that there is a community on campus for students with gluten intolerance.

“I know where they’re coming from,” Wronko said. “I understand their joy. Just to be able to see that and be like ‘This has a purpose. We’re doing this for a reason.’ is just really encouraging.”

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    Sheryl HarpelOct 4, 2023 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for focusing on the challenges faced by Villanova students with celiac or gluten intolerances. We hope the Villanovan will follow up and investigate what Villanova can do to make dining more safe and inclusive for students with celiac, food allergies, and/or food intolerances. Medically required food restrictions are considered a disability under the ADA, and lack of adequate safe options can lead to food insecurity. We are glad these students are creating a community that can support each other and also help push for change and suggest they also reach out to students with food allergies to increase their voices. We have added this article to our curated news on our website. Sheryl Harpel, Founder of Gluten Free Friends