Last week I was honored to be the Head Chef at Camp Celiac in RI. The camp is designed as a safe place for kids from 8-16 yo to spend one week not worrying about what they can or can’t eat. They will meet other kids all living without gluten, which leads to a wonderful connection. Many gluten free company’s across the country donate various products and staff spend endless time planning menus and recipes to utilize everything donated. Three meals a day and three snacks a day filled with all the fun treats that are rare to find in a gluten free diet. Breads, pizza, pasta, chicken nuggets, pancakes, cookie and the list goes on. The idea of flipping 500 pancakes at 5am could seem like a little much but when the kids smile and ask for more you completely understand how special a simple treat is. Real mac and cheese is something of a distant memory for many and having a child explain that it was the best they ever had gave me the fuel to push myself all week. I even had a father explain how scared his daughter is to eat out but that she trusts me and this week may change her life.
Outside of the food, everyone is grateful to be apart of the whole concept. At home, each child is the one that has trouble fitting in with others due to restrictions. You can just imagine how frustrating it is to worry every time you are invited to a birthday party, sleepover, dinner or any event. Going to a regular sleep away camp is nearly impossible for most gluten free kids but Camp Celiac makes this possible. Each child was so grateful that behavior issues, bullying or any misbehaviors are none existence. The staff goes out of the way to make sure each kid feels normal for one week there illness is only discussed if they bring it up. The day is filled with fun programing starting from 7am still 11pm depending on a campers age. At night, the older kids sit around a fire and sing songs, laugh and cry all with each other. The song “lean on me” is a common one heard night after night.
I worked my but off and enjoyed every second of it. I learned that many for these kids are scared to even eat out, something as simple as a movie snack can cause fear of cross contamination and potentially getting sick. The whole experience gave me even more determination to make a gluten free life something easier and safer for everyone.
The camp is a non-profit and with limit beds available it fills up fast. If you are interested in donating to the camp feel free to contact me. The camp runs a scholarship program and is always grateful for support.