Summer Camp: A Food Allergy Success
Michelle Isban (@allergymomwithamission) shares how she made sleepaway camp possible this summer for her daughter with severe food allergies. It was a process of meticulous researching, communicating, preparing, trusting and finally letting go.
We were able to send both our children away to sleepaway camp this summer for 7 weeks. I felt they were ready for the experience— our son is 12 and our daughter is now 9. However, we were also anxious as our daughter is allergic to eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame and shellfish.
When we were touring and speaking with camps for our older son, one of the top priorities was also ensuring that the camps had allergy protocols in place. It was a non-negotiable that the camp must be entirely nut free and have an allergy safe kitchen with an allergy coordinator on-site. Being that our daughter has multiple anaphylactic allergies, it would be impossible to ensure that there is no cross contamination in a large, general camp kitchen.
Many camps shared their honest opinion that they wouldn't be able to ensure her safety, while some responded, “We think we can handle it.” That wasn't good enough for me. I wanted confidence and reassurance. After speaking with a camp specialist, Michele Gershwin, we narrowed down our list.
Once we zeroed in on the best-fit camps, I spoke to numerous people at the camps about our daughter and her allergies. I was definitely an ‘allergy mom with a mission’. Coincidentally, we chose a camp that my husband went to for years and we were excited to continue the family legacy.
However, the process did not stop there. Many more steps were needed to organize and pack for our daughter than for our son with no food allergies. Besides creating daily and emergency protocols with the camp, speaking with all staff, filling out all of the essential paperwork, and ordering a generous supply of her favorite allergy safe snacks and foods, we also needed to gather and pack her medications and her emergency medication bags.
It took a long time to create the protocols for the allergy camp to ensure that there was a plan in place, as our goal was not only safety, but inclusivity as well. The protocols included safe snacks that were readily available, no food in the bunks, hand washing or wiping before and after all food activities, carrying of the emergency medicine bag, and more.
All this did not happen overnight.
As our children went off on their camp adventure, my emotions were mixed. I felt so grateful and fortunate that our children would have this opportunity to share together. Deep down I knew they would have an amazing summer that would help them grow and become more independent. This year has been a difficult one, between the quarantines and masks, and now they could finally have some time to be children.
However, on the other hand, I was nervous about my daughter’s safety and well being.
Yes, I was that mother who spoke to the camp director, the unit leader, the camp nurse, the lower camp leader, and the camp’s allergy specialist.
Yes, I was that mother who put 3 typed pages of protocols and procedures in place.
Yes, I was that mother who brought boxes and boxes of safe snacks to camp.
Do I think I went overboard? Not at all!
We all have our own comfort levels and for me it had only ever been very close friends and immediate family who fed my daughter.
It was new for me and definitely out of my comfort zone to relinquish control, but I knew that I had to trust the camp and the protocols we put in place. My daughter was not the first camper with severe food allergies to attend this camp.
Was I scared? Yes!
Was I sad to let go? Yes!
But I knew deep down inside that my daughter would be able to have fun and feel included with all the safeguards the camp and I had put in place, working closely together over the months leading up to the summer.
We dropped our kids off at camp. Handed off the medications, paperwork and plethora of safe snacks. Waved goodbye. Then I shed a few tears over the beginning of this new chapter for all of us.
A Word About My Inspiration and My Work
My two beautiful children aged 12 (my son) and 9 (my daughter) are my inspiration. While my oldest has no allergies, my youngest is allergic to eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame and shellfish. I also have food allergies — I'm allergic to tree nuts and have oral allergies to many raw fruits and vegetables.
When my daughter was diagnosed as an infant I was nursing. For her wellbeing, I eliminated all of her allergens from my diet. It was then that I realized how difficult it is to restrict so many foods from your diet.
I first became a part of the allergy world through co-chairing walks for FARE. As time went on I realized that I wanted to become more immersed in the food allergy community.
I dreamed up a community event called ‘Shoot for a Cure’ to benefit food allergy research. I reached out to End Allergies Together (EAT) and convinced them to allow me to hold this event. Breezemont Day Camp graciously hosted the event and we successfully raised over $60,000 for EAT. 'Shoot for a Cure' fostered food allergy awareness among the more than 300 attendees in fun and interactive ways.
Following the event I became EAT’s Community Events Director. I ran EAT’s community fundraisers, the teen and college ambassador program, & the mission ambassadors, and built relationships with allergy-safe product manufacturers.
As EAT wound down in 2020, I looked for new ways to reach and help the food allergy community. This led to the launch of my Instagram page — @allergymomwithamisson — where I continue working to spread awareness, advocate, and share allergy-friendly advice and products.
It is so important, especially during these hard and uncertain times, to have support where communities can come together. I’m grateful and thankful just to be a part of it.
About the Author: Michelle Isban, mother of two, was a special education teacher for over 12 years in NYC. She is intimately familiar — both as a mom and personally — with the challenges of life with food allergies. Her youngest has multiple anaphylactic food allergies and Michelle is severely allergic to tree nuts and manages OAS. Michelle has co-chaired walks for FARE to raise awareness and fundraise. She served as Community Events Director for End Allergies Together (EAT). Now, through her work as @allergymomwithamission, Michelle continues to dedicate herself to educating and supporting the entire food allergy community.