JANESVILLE — When Charlette Galster learned that the only solid food her daughter could eat had been discontinued, she felt “pure panic.”
Galster’s daughter Megan, 7, was diagnosed with autism when she was 2. She has a strong gag reflex that prevents her from eating most solid food and kept her on processed baby food until she was 4. The reflex usually recedes as children grow and allows them to eat solid food, but Megan struggles with food pieces as small as SpaghettiO’s.
Cheez-It Twisters, a variety of baked cheese snacks, have been the exception since Megan picked one up during snack time at school, Galster said. She rolls the snack on her lips then lets the curls dissolve in her mouth before swallowing.
When the treats became harder to find this year, Galster turned to Kellogg’s, the product producer, for answers. She eventually learned Twisters had been discontinued.
Galster said she panicked and thought of Megan tugging on her hand and asking “Twisters, please?” The 7-year-old has difficulty communicating with her family beyond basic questions and answers, and Galster knew explaining “discontinued” to her daughter was impossible.
“I called my mom just freaking out, bawling like a baby,” she said. “I cannot explain to her why there’s no food, and that feeling just devastates you as a parent.”
Her mother and Megan’s teachers and friends from school began searching stores across the state.
They found enough Twisters to keep the stockpile at a comfortable level, but coaxing Megan to eat another food would take months, time that Galster knew she didn’t have. So she turned to Woodman’s Food Market manager Steve “Shorty” Smith.
“She came up to me and asked if I had a minute,” Smith said. “I took one look at her face and knew I had to help.”
Smith called the store’s snack distributor and national sales executives with Kellogg’s. They told him the same thing: There were no Twisters left for distribution.
“I asked if they had checked every grocery chain they supply and got, ‘Well, no, we haven’t checked every store,’” he said. “I told them to send an e-mail out to every merchandiser and get busy.”
The “little miracle” came shortly after.
A Woodman’s in Oak Creek still had 46 cases of Twisters in the stock room and shipped them to the Janesville store the next day. Each case holds 12 boxes, and they’re all stored in Galster’s mother’s basement.
Helping customers find their favorite products is a daily task for Smith, but he said Megan’s story was beyond anything in his 31 years at the store.
“I’ve had customers say they really missed Graf’s 50/50 diet soda before, but this was about a child who wouldn’t be able to eat, and I just had to help her,” Smith said.
He sold the cases of Twisters to the family for half price because they were beyond the manufacturer’s date of discontinuation.
Difficulty eating solid foods can be common for children with autism, but Megan is “one of the pickiest,” teacher Sara Olsen said. Olsen teaches a cognitive disability class at Lincoln Elementary and began working with Megan last school year.
“We’ve found that Megan isn’t the kind of kid you can push into something,” Olsen said. “With things like eating and drinking, she does it when she’s good and ready.”
The family and her teachers will work with Megan to develop her eating plan, Galster said. For now, Megan gets the nutrients she needs from a liquid multivitamin, instant liquid breakfast, flavored milk and the Twisters from Smith.
“I prayed for a miracle, and he pulled one of his pocket,” Galster said. “This will be something so amazing that I can tell her about when she gets older.
“It’s amazing what human beings will do for each other.”