Camp Counselor

A camp counselor scavenger hunt at camp, featuring me hiding in the kitchen.

After returning from my two weeks abroad, I worked the remaining weeks of the summer as a camp counselor at a local Girl Scout Day Camp.  Since the campers pack their own lunches, I did not realize that food allergies would become as much of an issue as they were, but alas, my knowledge became very useful as my fellow counselors and I dealt with various campers.

On the Friday before each new week of camp, each counselor was given an hour to work with their co-counselor to plan activities for the upcoming week.  One of the requirements that we had to fulfill for each week’s schedule was making two snacks every week.  During our planning hour, we received a roster with the number of campers we had as well as any pertinent health information about the campers.  This roster would list any allergies that campers had put on their medical forms.  When we were choosing which theme-related snacks we wanted to make during the following week, it was great to know these restrictions up front.  Since I was one of two counselors with allergies, many of the other counselors would ask me for advice in choosing which foods they could use so that their campers with allergies could be included.  It was a great advocacy experience for me, and it really increased the respect that I had for the camp counselors that I had as a child who didn’t hold me back due to my allergies.

One of the hardest parts about camp was the fact that we never knew what supplies we would have until the day of.  So, sometimes we did not necessarily get what we needed on our supply request form.  During Nature Explorers week, we were making a bird’s nest snack where we stacked pretzel sticks, held them together with chocolate, and placed three jelly beans inside as the eggs.  Now I had a girl with a nut allergy this week which I recorded on the form, but the jumbo jelly beans we got said that they “may contain traces of peanuts”, so we did not give them to the allergic child as a safety precaution.  She was pretty upset about being left out, and the next day at drop off, her mom handed me a note that basically said “thank you for your concern for my child, but she can eat things that say may contain and I don’t want you excluding her from getting snacks all week”.  This situation was really frustrating for me, and luckily all future snacks for the week had no issues.  I spoke to the camp director about this incident and we discussed making a change to the allergy form that the campers submit for next year, and in the meantime, making sure that the foods we are given are completely free from any potential cross-contact for the allergic girls each following week.

 

China Tour 2018

One of the most exceptional experiences that I’ve had in college has been a two week trip to China with the UD Symphony Orchestra.  Traveling away from home for any period of time is scary when you have allergies, and when you go somewhere that has a language barrier, it makes things even scarier.  As someone who is allergic to sesame, nuts, and shellfish, I never really ate much more than edamame and rice at Asian restaurants back at home so I really did not know what to expect as far as eating.  After traveling there, I can confirm that it was very difficult at times to find food.  In addition to barriers of communication, and cuisine, the Chinese people are also not very allergy aware.  Most food was served buffet or family style, and sometimes, there would be one serving spoon to be used with every dish!  In short, there were several days that I had to sustain myself on granola bars and white rice.

One of the scariest moments for me while I was in China occurred during the third lunch we ate in Beijing.  In China, it is typical for a teapot to be placed on the table before the meal is served, and as an avid tea drinker, I usually poured myself tea while waiting for meals to start.  At this particular lunch, I had just poured myself a cup of tea and let it cool on my saucer before drinking it.  A few tables over, one of the other orchestra members stands up and shouts “Does anybody have a peanut allergy?” to which a bunch of my friends pointed to me.  This orchestra member then informed the orchestra that the tea had peanuts in it! I had never seen tea with nuts in it before, but after this person (I still don’t know her name) saved my life, I did not drink any more tea in China unless I was able to ask what was in it first.

Luckily, I had prepared myself before the trip so that things could run smoothly. The most important part of keeping me safe was notifying the trip leaders.  Before I made a down payment, I informed the trip coordinators and they promised that I would be safe.   While in the restaurants in China, I was always with a tour guide or a UD student fluent in Chinese so that I could reduce the communication barrier between me and the food.  Another thing that helped decrease the communication barrier was creating personalized allergy cards from FARE’s website.  This also helped when we had to grab food on our own– and in one instance, it allowed me to get bubble tea all by myself since the employee could understand the card, and was very accommodating.  I also was saved on numerous occasions by packing of instant oatmeal and safe granola bars for those days when the only thing I could eat at the group meals was rice.  This intense snack packing also helped out my friend on the trip with Celiac Disease, and left me with plenty of room in my suitcase for souvenirs as I ate through my snacks. Despite several close calls, I avoided eating anything that could have been potentially dangerous and was able to experience a whole different continent and get closer with the people that I had been playing with in orchestra.  The biggest take-away from this experience for me is that no matter what struggles you go through, the experience is always more important that the food.

 

A few of my friends and I standing outside of a concert hall in China that had a poster with our faces on it.

Quick Summer Update

Long time no post! This summer was super busy for me, so I am going to be posting about all of my summer adventures over the next three weeks before school starts again so that I can share all of my experiences with you.  My summer started off with a two week trip to China with the University of Delaware Symphony Orchestra which is probably the scariest trips I’ve ever taken as an allergic person.  Not only did I have to worry about a language barrier, but I also faced a lack of education and understanding that I have not experienced many other times in my life.  The day I got back began my training for my summer job as a day camp counselor.  I didn’t realize how many lessons about allergies I would have to teach during this job, but without my advocacy it would have been a difficult summer for some of the campers.  Finally, I took  two beach trips- a day trip with my co-workers and a week trip with my family- before having to pack up for college again.  Looking forward to sharing my content with you!

Food Allergy Awareness Week!

Ah. The middle of May. The sun is shining, the students are swimming (in work left to do before their final exams).  But there’s one thing that makes the middle of May great no matter what you’re procrastinating on in school, and that’s Food Allergy Awareness Week! This week  is all about learning more about the causes and implications food allergies have on the lives of 15 million Americans every day, and how you can help them out. The initiative started in 1998, and has grown immensely over the past twenty years.  This year, Food Allergy Awareness Week is  being celebrated from May 13-19.  FARE  has made resources and activities for us to use to raise awareness not only during this week but also throughout the whole month of May and put these activities in a cute little action calendar.

FARE’s suggestions for this week on the “Action Calendar” are:

Monday: Know the Facts- help to dispel common food allergy myths
Tuesday: Donate $15 to FARE for the 15 million Americans with food allergies
Wednesday: Be a PAL- teach other how to be a good friend to those with allergies (I have some suggestions on how to do this, you know…)
Thursday: #TealTakeover- wear teal to support food allergies
Friday: Anaphylaxis Awareness Day- learn how to use epinephrine auto-injectors
Saturday: Watch FARE’s Food for Thought videos

I hope you all have a wonderful Food Allergy Awareness Week and have the opportunity to learn something new each day! Comment below about what you’ve learned or how you’ve spread the word.

Foraging for Food at Formals

It’s almost the end of the spring semester, and as an involved college student, that means that its Formal Season.  My spring semester started off with one formal in February and then April brought two more.  I figured that since prom season is going on for those of you in high school, my stories about these will still be applicable.

The Honors Program winter formal was not too stressful for me since I was on the planning committee due to my position of being a Freshman Fellow.  I already knew the types of food that was going to be served and I knew that I would need to eat before coming early to set up, but it was no big deal.  When I approached them at the start of the event, the caterers said that they could get me something, but they never did.  I was glad that I had already eaten, but it would have been nice if they had gotten back to me.  Oh well.

The first April formal I went to was for the QUEST end-of-year banquet hosted by BHLP.  This event was held at an off-campus country club and featured buffet-style dining.  The food on the buffet had no labels as to what it was, which confused everyone in general.  But this was especially scary for me because after I talked to the staff about my allergies, they told me that all the dishes were safe except for me except for the pasta.  Once I got in line for the buffet, someone ahead of me asked what the dishes were and the employee stationed by the buffet said that the seemingly normal tortellinis with red sauce had crab meat in them! Imagine if I hadn’t asked and just assumed that the pasta was safe.  This just goes to show that you can never trust anything served to you if you do not get an explanation first.  Luckily, I was able to safely eat the chicken, potatoes, and mixed veggies, and all was well.

Then, this past weekend, the college youth group at my church had a formal at a local hotel.  Since it was from 8-11, I was not going there expecting to be fed a dinner so I was not too worried.  When I got there, there was a cheese tray and a fruit tray that were safe for me and then a dessert tray that I didn’t even attempt to eat anything from.  Then, waiters began carrying in trays of appetizers and eventually I decided to show one of them my allergy card, and a few minutes later she came back with a tray of safe appetizers that were baked specially for me instead fried in peanut oil like the others.  It meant so much to me that this hotel made that extra effort to provide me with something safe.

For all of you readers going to proms, formals, and other banquets as you end the school year, be sure to communicate with the staff running the event ahead of time and do not be afraid to speak up when food gets involved.  Everyone deserves a special night, and having different foods should not take away from that.