The struggles of being gluten free go well beyond just finding gluten-free alternatives to our favorite foods. They require us to be more aware of the world around us and sensitive to where food is being prepared. We must be vigilant about paying attention to every single ingredient, which can sometimes be exhausting. For anyone, especially children, these struggles can cause feelings of isolation by not being able to participate in activities where foods with gluten are the centerpieces (think pizza night). For this reason, a remarkable place called Camp Celiac in North Scituate, Rhode Island, hosts 145 kids with celiac ages 8 to 16 for a one-week sleepaway camp. This is a completely gluten-free camp where kids with celiac can eat everything in sight and for five days not feel singled out. Everyone around them deals with the same daily struggles.
Most of the campers do not know anyone with similar conditions, so this makes for a special place where they can share a donut and cookie with their friends. The camp doesn’t focus on the condition, however—rather, it focuses on the fun. Activities do not center around gluten-free living, per se, as staff does not actively bring it up. In many ways, there is no need. The campers, though, will chat about their favorite snacks or share their journey with celiac with their friends. I have been volunteering for five years as the kitchen lead and often feel that this place is as much of a retreat for me as it is for the campers. I understand what the campers feel, and I want to do everything in my power to make this a life-changing experience.
Lots to do—and eat!
Activities include, but are not limited to, swimming, fishing, zip-line, crafts, yoga and hiking. Campers eat three meals a day with multiple snacks in between, with the idea of sharing meals that the campers usually can’t enjoy in group settings. The menu includes all-you-can-eat pizza night, pasta dinner, Chinese “takeout,” pancake breakfast, and unlimited sweets and treats freshly baked in a fully gluten-free kitchen. Campers top it off with gluten-free s’mores around the campfire and hot soft pretzels at snack time.
Behind the scenes
Camp Celiac is a 501(c)(3) fully staffed by volunteers. All directors, counselors, kitchen staff and nurses give their time to make this week something very special. Almost all the food and supplies are funded by donations. We are indebted to the extremely generous vendors that want to share their gluten-free products with our community.
The testimonials are endless. From our youngest to oldest campers, the message is always the same—they believe (and I cannot agree more) that this place is something very special where lifelong friendships are formed and a new level of confidence is created by being connected to a group of people like them.
From the parents of a first-time camper in 2016
“To everyone who made this past week possible:
“Our son just attended Camp Celiac for the first time, and what comes to mind most is WOW!!! When we dropped him off, we were so impressed with the facilities, the efficiency of the drop off and the friendly nature that everyone had. We thought that he’d have a good time and felt comfortable that he’d be safe from being ‘glutened.’
“As the week progressed and we saw pictures every day of all the activities, we were thrilled and thought that he was probably having a great time. By the time Friday rolled around, we were starting to think, ‘Uh oh, he may not want to come home.’ And at pick-up time, it was clear that camp had exceeded our hopes. It’s a bit counterintuitive to be happy to see your child cry, but watching him say those heart-wrenching goodbyes confirmed that the entire experience meant something to him he’ll never forget, and we are so grateful. On the way home, he said that it was probably the best week of his life.
“It’s clear that the amount of time and effort you put into organizing, staffing and facilitating camp is an incredible labor of love.”
Want to learn more or help support this special place? Please visit Campceliac.org or the “Friends of Camp Celiac” Facebook page. We are always in need of qualified volunteer counselors and nurses. We also accept donations on our site. Vendors interested in donating products to offer and promote to our camp community should contact us. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or inquiries to [email protected].
Registration opened Feb. 1, 2018, and some beds are still available. Find registration forms online at campceliac.org. The dates for camp this year are Aug. 5 to 10.
Click here for a list of gluten-free-accommodating camps in the United States and Canada for 2018.
Want more information on celiac and kids? Check out our Kids section!