We're a new Beaver Colony; it just started up this year. It's my first year as a leader, and the Scout leader had booked us a weekend at Camp McLean; he would arrive Friday and leave Saturday with the Scouts, and we would arrive Saturday and leave Sunday. Unfortunately, being new, we really hadn't started planning early enough, so the only time available was November 29/30.
Let me describe the weather in Vancouver around late-November and early-December. It's basically "rain, heavy at times, with a chance of showers". Temperatures will be near freezing if it doesn't rain, and +5°C/40°F if it does. Night-time temperatures would likely be very near freezing. The sleeping arrangements were in cabins; unheated cabins. They don't leak, but the lack of heating makes for a worry-factor when dealing with 5-7 year-olds who love to spend their day splashing through puddles. Hence the reason for organizing the early-October camp for next year now.
Part of Scouts Canada's requirements for a camp (here we come back to the allergies) is to plan a menu considering any food allergies. Suffice to say, I grabbed that bull by the horns and had both elbows out when anyone offered to help.
I would create the menu.
I would do the shopping.
I would cook.
I would serve the food (the camp has a huge, well-stocked kitchen).
I would clean up.
I would know my kid was safe.
That's not possible.
Leaders are working flat-out to put on a program at camp. We had 13 kids and 14 adults at this camp. We are all trying to keep the kids warm, dry, amused and engaged in the activites we have planned. Leaders don't have time to cook and serve the food, then clean the kitchen. Beaver camp was well described by one of my fellow leaders as a 26-hour birthday party for 13 kids. Add in the weather and you've got a potential for some parents to be in trouble with the elements.
So...we need a menu that works for all children (and parents - although none of them has a food allergy) attending. I reviewed the health notices of each child and parent for allergies, and I was (sorry to phrase it this way) pleased to note that in our colony there are 3 other kids with food allergies. One to peanuts and two to dairy. Great! (sorry again) No need to single out Andrew as "the kid with allergies". During our last regular meeting before the camp, I would tell the kids and parents not to bring nuts and not to share food without checking with your friend's parent. I reinforced this message by explaining that some kids in our colony have food allergies, particularly to nuts and diary.
At that anouncement one of the Beavers (not Andrew) leaped up and said, "I'm allergic to peanuts!" Andrew chimed in "Me too!". I actually heard one of the other Beavers ask, "Why can't I be allergic to something?" That first kid was going to camp, the two with dairy allergies were not. There would be no stopping Andrew from going to camp. It was kind of cool to have the kids identify themselves to the colony; protection of privacy prohibits me from disclosing that to the group.
Despite the good vibes going on , I still had concerns...I was going to have to let go of some responsibility and trust another parent in the kitchen. Trust my wife? Definitely. Trust a well-intended parent who doesn't "get" the allergy thing? Hmmmm....not-so-much. I'm not very good at trusting with respect to allergies anymore. You can look back through the posts my wife has put up, and see what's happened in the past.
One advantage to being a leader, is that we set the camp program. I volunteered for this task. I set the program, the start time, the end time, and the menu. I did the shopping. See, I told you I wasn't very good at trusting others with food. I figured if all the food Andrew ate was bought and brought by me there would be no problems.
By setting the camp schedule, I did get to cheat. I had everyone arrive at noon on Saturday with a BYO lunch and a big reinforcement on that warning about nuts and sharing. I get to bring Andrew's lunch and not make a scene about it. That left afternoon snack on Saturday, Saturday dinner, mugup (hot chocolate and s'mores), Sunday breakfast, snack and send everyone home before lunch. See how I deftly scheduled everything so that lunch wasn't a problem.
Next post I'll talk about the specifics of the menu and planning meals for 30 that are allergen free without being obviously allergen free. How do you handle campfire classics like hot chocolate and s'mores? Don't most little kids like milk for breakfast? What about all those plates and cutlery?