Create a cool camp care package for your Maryland camper

CampCarePackageWBy Kristy MacKaben

When Annapolis teen Chase Hite received a slip at camp last summer letting him know there was a care package waiting for him, instantly his day became more awesome.

Hite, 17, spent the entire month of July at Lake Champion, a Young Life camp in New York. As a volunteer of the "work crew" team at the Christian-based camp, Hite says he had almost no connection to the "outside world." So, a camp care package was "literally" a godsend.

"It was always the highlight of my day," Hite says, explaining he received a few care packages and a lot of letters during his four weeks at camp. "The only times I felt homesick were when there was a gap between getting packages or letters."

Most Maryland camp directors and counselors agree sending a care package to kids in camp is important — it shows campers people care about them and they're not forgotten about at home.

"It's like a little mini birthday or Christmas surprise," says Trev Dalton, summer camp director at YMCA Camp Letts in Edgewater. "It's a little spark. A little bit of home is contained in there."

Fewer campers these days have been receiving the coveted goodies, according to the American Camp Association. Whether the cause is busy parents or shorter camp sessions, about 20 percent of campers receive care packages compared to 70 percent in years past, says Nancy Canter, executive director for the Chesapeake field office of the American Camp Association.

Regardless, camp directors agree that the camp care package should not be forgotten.

"I do feel like it's an important part of camp," stresses Tim Ward, director of ministry and programming for Camp Wabanna in Edgewater. "It shows campers they are supported and loved by their family and friends."

heart packageTips for camp care packages

Make sure your camper feels the love this summer by sending a care package that's a big hit. Be sure to read the camp guidelines before sending it off to make sure items won't get confiscated. To make it easier, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for creating camp care packages based on the advice of a few experts.

Avoid edible treats

Snickers bars or homemade brownies can win over any camper, but many overnight camps no longer allow food. Food allergies are a big reason for the ban, but food also attracts bugs or other pests in rustic cabins, counselors agree.

"Bringing food is never a good idea at camp," says Danita Terry, director of communications and media relations for Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, which has camps throughout the state. "Food allergies are so much more common these days. God forbid you send something to your child and it causes an adverse allergic reaction to one of her bunk mates."

Sometimes parents send snacks, and campers are asked not to open the snacks in the dorm room so the remnants do not attract rodents or bugs, Ward says. Some camps allow hard candies, edible bouquets or other treats that would be eaten immediately. Baked goods are usually off-limits.

Keep it unplugged

Anything digital or electronic and anything that allows communication are not allowed at most camps.

"We really want to encourage an unplugged atmosphere, and we really want all communication with parents to go through the mail," says Julia Zahn, associate director at Camp Wright in Stevensville.

Camp officials do not want campers to lose or damage expensive electronic equipment, but they also do not want kids to isolate themselves. If allowed to use tablets or smartphones, campers might not take time to get to know their fellow campers, and they might be disengaged from camp, Zahn says.

Campers also should not be allowed to text or call home from a cellphone, which might make them homesick or unwilling to solve their own problems.

Some camps require campers to open packages in front of counselors, and anything not allowed is confiscated and given back before the children go home.

"Most camps have printed policies, but some parents don't follow this or they send something forbidden in a stuffed animal, like they hide a cell phone in a stuffed animal," says Eve Eifler, co-director of Tips on Trips and Camps, a camp consulting company based in Baltimore. "It's a terrible message to send to kids."

Send personalized items

Catering to a child's interests shows parents thought carefully about the care package, says Malcolm Petty, owner of Sealed with a Kiss, an online company that sends specialized care packages to campers.

Hite is a soccer fan, so he enjoyed receiving magazines and newspaper articles about soccer tournaments.

"I always wanted to know what was going on in the world," he says. "It was kind of the only connection we had to the outside world."

A superhero fanatic might enjoy a comic book or some figurines, while an animal lover might love a book or magazine about animals, along with a stuffed animal.

Campers, especially girls, often want a camp memento. Petty says one of his most popular items is an autograph pillow. The pillows can be signed by friends at camp and then taken home as a reminder of camp.

Include enough to share

Your child will be the hit at camp if you send enough to share, Eifler says. Water balloons, stick-on mustaches or Mad Libs are fun options to include. Hair ribbons, bracelets, something in the camp or cabin "color," or something that fits with the camp mascot are popular options, she says.

Girls often want social gifts like autograph books and boys want "gross stuff" like slime or games or balls, Petty says.

"Usually the parent sends not only for their child but for their friends," Ward explains. "We just want to encourage unity."

"I always love when parents send their kids things that they can do with their cabin, like games or arts and crafts activities," says Julia Quintavalle, a counselor and former camper at Camp Letts. "Even sending magazines is fun because then the kids will read the magazines together and talk about them together, which helps to bond them as a group."

Remind them of home ... but not too much

Photos and letters are always desired, Ward explains. Hite agrees, saying he enjoyed knowing what was going on at home and that people were thinking of him.

Letters should include little updates and sentiments about how much parents love the camper, but should avoid anything that might make the camper homesick, Zahn says. Avoid messages that say how much parents miss them or that they will pick up their camper early if he or she wants to come home. Messages should always be positive, upbeat and encouraging, Ward says.

Read Sealed with a Kiss: 12 Fun ideas for sending a camp care package for more ideas.