When the pandemic first began in March, we all saw a global rise in hoarding. For the first few weeks, you were hard-pressed to find things like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and canned goods. Canned foods of all kinds were flying off the shelves since people figured they’d last in the face of an apocalypse. While it was inconvenient standing in long lines and trying to find anything that wasn’t canned mackerel and lima beans, the pandemic’s initial panic buying did pose a very serious problem for Crystal MacDonald.
The mom of five was finding it impossible to locate SpaghettiOs with Meatballs. While it may seem like something trivial to some, it was actually of very big significance for Crystal. That is because her daughter, Ashlyn, has severe autism.
The young girl had a fondness for SpaghettiOs with Meatballs, something she’d enjoyed since she was four. But since mid-March and the onset of the pandemic, it turned into the only food that she could stomach.
Community helps mom find SpaghettiOs for daughter with autism https://t.co/7TltHBdf4k
— TODAY with Hoda & Jenna (@HodaAndJenna) September 13, 2020
Ashlyn, who is also non-verbal, finds it difficult to eat sometimes because of the sensory experience involved. As Crystal explained to TODAY Food, “Before the pandemic, she would eat a few other types of foods like cheese pizza, yogurt, and grilled cheese. Food is a very sensory experience for her and I believe that most foods are too much, texture and taste-wise, for her.”
However, once the pandemic hit, there were major changes happening to people’s normal routines. For people with autism, a disruption to their normal routine can cause a lot of upset. And when Ashlyn could no longer go to school, she ended up becoming upset.
As her mother further explained, her mental health suffered and she stopped eating certain other foods. Crystal stated about the reason why she believes that Ashlyn can only seem to be able to eat SpaghettiOs is because, “the predictability of the texture and taste of the SpaghettiOs brings a sense of control and comfort to her in this time of chaos.”
and this https://t.co/0jy2gPmSo8
— skio147 (@skio147) September 16, 2020
Crystal, herself, has seen some changes in her own life and routine as well. The mother ended up stop working in April in order to take care of her five kids – all who range in ages from 4 through 13. Crystal has also been pursuing an accelerated online nursing degree with Boston’s Simmons University.
But the biggest change that she had to contend with, was when her local market in Attleboro, Massachusetts, ran out of SpaghettiOs. Crystal’s desperation mounted as she began to visit other grocery stores and food pantries in the area – sometimes as frequently as 20 times per day! In the meantime, as she hunted for the specific ones that Ashlyn liked, Crystal tried to substitute her meals with other variations such as SpaghettiOs with Frank, or Chef Boyardee products that are similar to SpaghettiOs. But nothing seemed to work.
But then around the early part of August, the Sun Chronicle ran a story focused on the food shortage problems facing certain people. Crystal and her daughter, Ashlyn, were featured in the piece. That turned things around for the family.
Once the story ran, Crystal began to receive tons of support from the community around them. She received tips on where to buy the SpaghettiOs, as well as direct donations from people who dropped the cans off on her doorstep.
Community helps mom find SpaghettiOs for daughter with autism https://t.co/fb206atLOa Feeding any kid GMO, gluten, sugar should be illegal – zero benefits and lots of harm. Use organic healthy foods. Over 27K parents agree https://t.co/NHson2J41Z
— SNCCLA (@SNCCLA) September 13, 2020
Crystal was overwhelmed by the support. She told TODAY that it felt wonderful to know that there was that kind of caring present in her community.
She further added that being the parent of a special needs child can sometimes come with a sense of loneliness, however, she found it incredible that strangers were so understanding and supportive – even during a time of crisis.
There’s an 11-year-old girl in Massachusetts with autism named Ashlyn MacDonald. And ever since the pandemic hit, she’ll only eat SpaghettiOs. People started donating cans. And now she’s set, because the SpaghettiOs will give them an entire year’s worth. https://t.co/efZPYbd1WF
— HOT 96.7 (@Hot967) September 14, 2020
TODAY ended up reaching out directly to a spokesperson from the parent company of SpaghettiOs, Campbell’s Soup Company. They asked if they’d heard of Crystal’s dilemma. The spokesperson noted that the company had not, however, they expressed genuine concern and wanted to help.
Accoridng to the outlet, the spokesperson for the company, Lisa Zahn, said, “SpaghettiOs was glad to see that the MacDonald family received so much support from friends and neighbors to locate Ashlyn’s favorite meal. We’d like to make it a little easier for them and plan to send the MacDonald’s a year’s supply of SpaghettiOs and Meatballs.”
An #Attleboro mom has received an outpouring of support from her community. Crystal MacDonald’s 11 yo daughter Ashlyn has severe autism & will only eat @SpaghettiOs w/meatballs. Stores ran out during #COVID19. Strangers heard her plight & have been donating dozens of cans! pic.twitter.com/FVRhSp1q9e
— Kim Tunnicliffe (@KimWBZ) September 9, 2020
Understandably, Crystal was floored by this gesture. She was in tears after she heard the news of what her daughter was about to be gifted and noted that she had no words to express how grateful she was feeling.
It’s always such a wonderful thing to see strangers rally together to help those who need it. Hopefully this story will remind us that we’re all in it together. And, hopefully Ashlyn enjoys her year’s supply of SpaghettiOs!
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.