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Camps for Children with Celiac Disease Prove Popular
Demand for Summer Programs Increases Across the Country
At first glance, Camp Celiac has all the elements of a traditional summer camp. A lush forest. A sparkling pond. Rustic cabins. But what makes the week-long getaway extraordinary is what the camp lacks—gluten.
Set in rural Rhode Island, the camp has evolved into a full-blown operation serving more than 200 children from across the United States and abroad. Camp Celiac is a joint effort between the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Celiac Support Group for Children and Adults Too, Chapter 72, and the Celiac Support Association (CSA).
“It has exploded into this huge venture,” said Tanis Collard, who founded Camp Celiac to help her daughter find other children facing the same dietary challenges. “I started the camp as a weekend sleep-away camp for children with celiac disease in the hopes that my daughter would meet some kids like her. That weekend about 50 campers came. At the end of that weekend, the kids begged us to do more.”
Collard said the entirely gluten-free kitchen comes as the biggest shock to new attendees who sometimes have a hard time wrapping their minds around it. “These kids come to camp and say ‘Can we eat this?’ ‘Can we eat that?’ After 24 hours they catch on that they can eat anything they want. It’s really kind of funny.”
Ensuring the camp is free of wheat, barley, and rye—the grains that trigger the immune system reaction that causes the intestinal symptoms of celiac disease—is the simple part, said Collard. The cook at Camp Aldersgate, where the camp is hosted, was willing to learn the ins and outs of gluten-free cooking. Now, the real challenge is entertaining a camp full of children for a week.
Helping Children Attend Camp
The Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF) provides tuition scholarships for children to attend Camp Celiac and other summer camps that feature gluten-free menus. The scholarship money comes from Team GlutenFree, an endurance sports training and fundraising program in which runners and walkers participate in full or half marathons across the United States to raise money for celiac-related causes, according to CDF founder Elaine Monarch.
A Growing Trend
Camp experiences for children with celiac disease have been around since the 1980s. The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) has helped gluten-free campers find spots at Camp Sealth in Seattle, a North Carolina camp, Camp Oh-Da-Go-Ta in Wisconsin, and the Great Gluten Escape in Texas.
Unlike Camp Celiac, the camps supported by the GIG serve a broad population of children, with celiac disease campers accounting for approximately 10 percent of the campers at Camp Sealth. The GIG runs a separate kitchen to serve the needs of the campers who cannot tolerate gluten, which allows children with celiac disease to fully participate in camp life.
“You don’t live in a bubble, so we try to teach them to be a part of everyday life,” said Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the GIG. “It gives us an opportunity to educate the campers and the staff.”
Kupper said the education mission appears to be working. One year, campers in a cabin decided to eat entirely gluten-free to support their gluten-free campmate.
There is little risk of the camps for children with celiac disease disappearing. Kupper said the GIG is looking into supporting campers who have both celiac disease and diabetes—an increasingly common population—and Collard said her daughter implored her to continue her volunteer efforts. But that lobbying may be unnecessary, Collard said. “You look at these kids’ faces and you know that you have to do it again.”
For more information about celiac camps for kids, visit the CDF website at www.celiac.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21&Itemid=38, the GIG website at www.gluten.net, and the CSA website at www.csaceliacs.org.
For more information on celiac camps for kids, please reference the celiac disease organizations page.
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Page last updated September 24, 2014