Crystal MacDonald could not find SpaghettiOs with Meatballs anywhere and her daughter was not eating anything apart from that since mid-March.
Around mid-March, when the pandemic hit the US in full swing, supermarkets saw a surge of people buying toilet paper, sanitizers, and packaged goods in bulk - because no one knew how long the lockdown protocols were going to be in place. With the sudden hoarding of such items, a mother of five was faced with a crisis. Crystal MacDonald could not find SpaghettiOs with Meatballs anywhere. While having one's pantry filled with non-perishable items at the beginning of the pandemic was precautionary for some, for MacDonald it was of the utmost importance. Her daughter Ashlyn, who has severe autism, began eating SpaghettiOs with Meatballs when she was four and since mid-March, it was all she could eat.
Community helps mom find SpaghettiOs for daughter with autism https://t.co/7TltHBdf4k— TODAY with Hoda & Jenna (@HodaAndJenna) September 13, 2020
Ashlyn, who is non-verbal, has a hard time eating food as it's a sensory experience for her. "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," the mother told TODAY Food. But with the onset of the pandemic, Ashlyn could no longer go to school and carry out her regular routine, something that is extremely important for people with autism.
"Once she lost her routine of school, and like so many people with autism, routine is vital to their mental health, she stopped eating other foods. I think the predictability of the texture and taste of the SpaghettiOs brings a sense of control and comfort to her in this time of chaos," explained MacDonald, who stopped working in April to take care of her kids of ages four through 13. She has also been working towards obtaining an accelerated online nursing degree from Simmons University in Boston. During his health crisis, she realized that her local market in Attleboro, Massachusetts, was all out of SpaghettiOs that her daughter ate. So, she began visiting several grocery stores and checking with food pantries in the area. She would either call them or pay them a visit which would often amount to 20 per day.
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
Apart from her daily hunt, MacDonald tried giving her daughter other variations like SpaghettiOs with Frank or items by Chef Boyardee that were similar to the SpaghettiOs with meatballs but it didn't work. "I tried all the non-brand name versions I could," she said, adding, "I even prepared them when she couldn't see the can but she always knew it wasn't SpaghettiOs and would refuse to eat them." Then in early August MacDonald was featured in Attleboro's local paper, the Sun Chronicle, which described food storage faced by people. Soon after, MacDonald was flooded with support from her community who offered her tips on where to find the product and sent in donations of cans directly to her doorsteps.
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
"It has been an incredible experience to feel so much love from our community," said MacDonald of the overwhelming support. "As a parent of a special needs child, it can be a lonely existence and one that you imagine others to not quite understand. Especially in these times of such turmoil and hardship, it has been incredible to experience such kindness." When the outlet reached out to a spokesperson of Campbell's Soup Company, that owns SpaghettiOs, and asked if they had heard of MacDonald's hunt for the canned pasta or not, they revealed they hadn't but were very eager to extend help.
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
"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," said Lisa Zahn, a spokesperson for the company. "That is such an incredible gift for my daughter and for us," said MacDonald, who was brought to tears after hearing about the surprise gift. "This will bring so much joy and relieve so much stress. This is an amazing blessing and I can't express my gratitude enough. I don't have enough words."
A Mass. community is helping a mother stock-up on SpaghettiO's for her daughter with Autism who looks to them as a meal that helps keep her comfortable in a routine. Campbell's caught word, and is supplying the family 800 cans! (VID: WBZ, CRYSTAL MACDONALD, CNN) pic.twitter.com/HiIjtw4ENu— WDBJ7 (@WDBJ7) September 12, 2020