Just a couple of weeks ago, our family experienced a wonderful and significant milestone. Our son, age 11, with severe food allergies successfully navigated (with his Dad) a week away at Boy Scout Camp. We encouraged our sons to make the most of the opportunity they were given to experience Boy Scout Camp- and I am so happy to say that they truly did.
Before I move on, into the body of this post, I would like to place this little note at the top. The teen years are the time when the most food allergy fatalities occur. This is a combination of risk taking behavior(common to teens) and the natural path toward independence a young adult must take. In recent years, the food allergy community has been deeply saddened and grieved as several young people have died after taking just a bite of a food unknowingly contaminated with their allergen. It is in light of this reality, that we live our life. For our family, we have felt comforted to know that as long as our son does not eat anything other than what we (Todd or I) give him, his risk of this scenario is greatly, greatly, greatly lowered. A camp situation (or a travel situation) is a more dangerous circumstance. There are so many distractions, excitement, and newness all around. It is in these times, it is best to have everything planned and prepared to avoid a dangerous mistake. This is what we have chosen to teach him for his own safety. We want him to have some level of comfort but also an awareness of his extreme danger. Lord willing, we want our child to live a long life on the earth! Everyone needs to find their own personal comfort level based on advice from their physician and personal allergic history.
We have also chosen to have Todd very involved in Scouting. He is a ParentScout and, at this time, he participates in all outings that our allergic son attends. We are happy with this choice for more reasons than safety. We want to build relationships and make memories! While Scouting is a boy led activity, in the case of a serious special need like our son has, we resolutely keep Dad deeply involved.
Also, These are just my reflections and not a detailed how-to. I think if you search the internet, you will find more than enough web posts and blogs giving specific details and checklists. However, if anyone reading this should have a specific question based on anything I wrote here- I am happy to answer via email or comments.
So- with that- I present to you: Boy Scout Camp 2014
After all this time, 11 + years of life altering food allergy, some things are second nature and Todd and I just slide into, what is now a *somewhat* comfortable rail, and follow our instincts and our knowledge to accomplish our goal. In this case, our goal was a successful week at Boy Scout Camp with no significant reaction and our son able to earn merit badges and learn more about his Scouting journey. I am so thrilled to say that we more than accomplished that goal with our son having ZERO reactions and no need for any asthma medications through the whole week. Of course, needing medication(for asthma or allergies) is not a big deal and would not have detracted from this victory at all but not needing any treatment for a food related reaction is, indeed, cause to celebrate for us!!
The night before Boy Scout Camp, in a late night flurry of research, I discovered a couple of blog posts and this link: 2013 Boy Scout Food Allergy Guidelines. I felt very confirmed that we were on the right path and doing what was rightful and needed. Also, encouraged that I didn’t even need to research to know what to do! (little note here – our son also participated in Klondike this winter and this also was a big milestone as it involved navigating a meal without Dad on site (although older brothers were) and keeping epinephrine climate controlled, etc. I got a lot of help and support from this website: Kids with Food Allergies and I highly recommend this resource! These wonderful families helped me know what kind of epi-pen carrier to choose and how to store an inhaler safely in freezing weather. I have utilized POFAK for years as a food allergy mom.) At the bottom of this post, I included affiliate links for these food allergy items that have been so helpful for us in Scouting.
How we did it:
Several months before camp, when we learned that Asher could have the opportunity to attend, I contacted the Camp Director of the camp our Troop had chosen. I emailed at first based on what the website stated. I was then given contact information for the correct person. I started by reaching out with an email and phone call. My first goal was to speak personally with this man, the Food Service Manager at our camp. I knew that I would *know* when I spoke to him if this was a possibility or not. That first phone call was amazing and I will be transparent and share that I welled up with tears while talking to him and cried when I got off the phone. I knew it was a “go” for our son to attend.
Based on that first phone call, Todd and I had to make decisions. We followed our instincts, our knowledge, and our years of practical life experience to make the right decisions for our son.
I followed up with the Food Service Manager two more times via phone call and at least once through email. He linked us to the menu so that we could see what the Camp was offering and help plan our son’s week. The last call was just prior to our son’s arrival (with Troop and his Dad) at camp. This was the Food Service Manager’s request. He asked that I give him a call the week before we were to arrive. He notified his crew in the kitchen that we were coming.
We decided to bring all of Asher’s food into camp as this is what his allergy requires. Dairy allergy is one of the most difficult food allergies to deal with in social settings. Based on all of our knowledge and life experience, we knew this was the correct path for our son. We planned his meals based on the camp menu and pre-cooked over 90 percent. Todd determined to cook eggs and hash browns for some breakfasts but everything else we brought in. This was the best decision! We have learned to be prepared for anything! You cannot count on anything being safe or being what it needs to be. Be prepared for human error, oversight, and misunderstanding! We also used the Camp Schedule to help us determine what was needed. One night was a foil dinner, and so we prepped for that as well.
We brought dry goods (two Rubbermaid containers) and freezer goods. We brought paper towels, soap, paper plates, Wet Ones, plastic silverware, napkins, condiments (ketchup, peanut butter), bread, dry cereal boxes, juice boxes, our own fry pan. In short, everything to be entirely self-sufficient.
Once at camp, we again and again experienced the rightness of our choices. The eggs and hash browns were all that Todd was able and would have been able to deal with at Camp.
Camp was so accommodating and allowed us space in their amazing freezer to store all of our items. Everything was labeled (by me) with son and Dad’s name and Troop number. Almost everything was also double sealed by us (in ziplock bags) to protect the food from contamination.
There were some bumps in the road but fortunately, none that caused our son any harm. For Todd, getting everything organized at camp was rough and dealing with the very dangerous kitchen (dairy everywhere) was also harrowing. There was a learning curve with food preparation and a tight time schedule that was rough. But by the end of the week, he was in the flow. Dealing with the extreme stress three times a day (for each meal) was hard but well worth it and, in the end, doable; our goals attainable! The first full day, Todd met the Food Service Manager in person and confirmed that he was as awesome as I had suspected he was!
Our Troop was also very supportive. Our Scoutmaster made an announcement to the boys at the beginning of the week. And everyone had no problem washing hands after eating and just being aware.
For our son, it was more than worth it. He had an amazing time and while he is quick to say that there were challenges with his allergy and camp, he has one more victorious experience in his arsenal toward navigating life with this special need.
Asher would willingly and with great glee attend Camp again. Per Todd, his ability to attend a week like this will depend on the kind of kitchen the camp utilizes. There could be a chance that he would not be able to attend, depending on the facility chosen. It will be quite a few years until he is mature enough and old enough to go solo in a setting like this- and not without a chosen buddy who knows how to use an epi-pen. I have no doubt that when that time comes, Todd and I will know. And we will know what to do and how to do it.
Affiliate Links for Products mentioned above:
We actually went with a red anatote lined specially for winter weather.
This one is water-resistant but you can find all different sizes for the best fit!