Growing up I was the one kid who NEVER went to sleep away camp, NEVER was allowed to go to sleep away soccer camp, anywhere where food was involved, even for day camps I would bring all my own lunches. I always begged my mom every winter to let me sign up for camps with my friends, but no camp would take me, no camp was willing to accomodate a gluten free diet. No camp director was able to promise I wouldn’t spend half my time at camp sicker than sick. It sucked, I always felt like I missed out on a large part of childhood, all my friends would come back in the fall talking about how much fun they had at camp, how they had all their “camp friends” and I would talk about how I did the same old same old day camps every summer, because that’s all I could do.
Then in 2007 I heard that they were creating a Celiac Camp, run by the Taylor Family Foundation. “They Taylor Family Foundation’s Mission is to preserve the wellness and enhance the quality of life for children in Northern California living with life-threatening and chronic illnesses, developmental disabilities and youth at-risk through unique therapeutic experiences and support.” Pretty much they’re angels sent down to Earth to run summer camp for all the kids who have never been able to attend camp before due to chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
I immediately signed up for Celiac Camp (I was 17 at the time, the oldest ‘camper’ by 3 years), that summer it was almost like a trial summer for our organization, 4 days and 3 nights over a weekend with about 60 celiac kids. It was pretty disorganized, but amazing. Forget the fact that camp had the BEST camp food you will ever get at a camp, but it was amazing to be able to share food with everyone at your table, be able to eat the bread that came with dinner, and be able to share a sandwich with a friend, experiences I had never had before.
Camp grew exponentially the next year, we got a real camp director and it was a huge success. We’re now in our 7th summer of camp, and had to expand to having 2 sessions of camp (back-to-back), both of which have waitlists for campers and counselors. It’s an amazing sight to see campers break down from tears of happiness when they realize that, for once in their life, they can eat the cinnamon rolls and donuts at breakfast, are tasting delicious lasagna and mac-n-cheese for the first time, and you can see the happiness in their face when they put a perfectly roasted marshmallow on a gluten free graham cracker cookie and take their first bite of a s’more. These campers appreciate camp so much more than any kid you will meet, because this is the only place they can be a kid without judgement or fear taking over, without ANY worries (ok there are always some worries, but no worries about food), and everyone is just like them, they’re for once not the different kid, not the weird one with different food.
Camp isn’t ALL about the food (although it does revolve around meal time), it’s great for kids to meet kids just like them, share their experiences, talk about their struggles and issues having to deal with growing up with Celiac Disease. Never once are the kids “forced” to talk about it, but every night in the cabins during bed time the conversations go from talking about boys and the dance and then towards talking about celiac disease, because it’s the one time where talking about celiac is not looked down upon, people won’t roll their eyes at you because you are bitching about a place that you got cross contamination at.
Check us out, think about making a donation (we’re one of the most expensive camps for TTFF because of all the specialty food, also the camp is totally free for campers which is AMAZING), and realize that if you are a kid growing up with Celiac Disease there is a place where you will always be welcome.