DeFeo, 13, was diagnosed with the disease when she was in second grade and immediately started adhering to a gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is a condition that results in damage to the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten.
"[Maggie] is lucky in that she has wonderful friends and family, including her Girl Scout family, who always go out of the way to accommodate her dietary needs," her mother Tracey DeFeo told Patch. "The hardest thing is when you can’t plan ahead. For example, if she goes somewhere and they unexpectedly have pizza and cupcakes and we didn’t know about it. She can feel left out."
DeFeo said she decided to do her Silver Award project on the disease because she wanted to raise awareness about it and teach other girls about ways they could make a difference for anyone who has Celiac Disease or any type of food allergy.
"I feel if more people were aware, it would be easier for people like me to find safe food to eat and for others to understand what we have to go through," DeFeo told Patch.
As part of her project, DeFeo met and spoke with several Girl Scout Troops to teach the girls about Celiac Disease. She also whipped up a batch of her favorite gluten-free chocolate chip cookies to share with the girls and show them that gluten-free food can taste great.
"People can make a difference in simple ways," she said.
For example, they should have gluten free choices to offer to a friend who has the disease, so the person doesn't feel left out.
"They can make a difference by just being sensitive to others feelings," she said. "I also told [the girl scouts] that if they had questions about celiac disease to just ask their friend in private so they don't get embarrassed or feel different."
Another big part of DeFeo's project was collecting gluten-free food which was donated to the Westchester Food Bank. She was able to collect more than 200 pounds of it. She also made individual backpacks – containing gluten-free snacks, a gluten-free handbook on safe foods and foods to avoid – for children with Celiac Disease.
"I think my project is making a difference in that more people know about Celiac Disease," DeFeo said. "I have a lot of people who come up and tell me that they found a new restaurant or a supermarket that sells gluten free food. I also think I brought awareness that for people who are in need and have dietary restrictions, it can be really hard."
The Ultimate Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe from Annalise G. Roberts cookbook "Gluten-Free Baking")
- 1 cup vegetable shortening (preferably trans-fat-free) plus more for greasing baking sheets
- 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons brown-rice flour mix
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
- Put oven rack in middle position and heat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease 2 large baking sheets.
- Whisk together flour mix, baking soda, salt, and xanthan gum in a small bowl.
- Beat together 1 cup shortening and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just incorporated, then stir in chips and walnuts if using.
- Drop heaping teaspoons of dough 2 inches apart onto baking sheets.
- Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden, 9 to 15 minutes. Let stand for 1 minute, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool and continue making cookies using cooled baking sheets.