Celiac Camp at Camp Arroyo with Udi’s
This is our initial launch of “On The Road: A Slice of Gluten-Free Life” – done in the style of the late Charles Kuralt. Join me in this month’s blog journey as we visit YMCA Camp Arroyo in beautiful Northern California.
Let’s go camping – celiac style!
I have a confession. Even though I live in Colorado and enjoy the outdoors and nature, when it comes to camping, let’s just say I don’t like to leave everyday conveniences too far behind. Maybe it has something to do with my own childhood memories associated with youth camp, which probably explains my hesitations when we first decided to visit Celiac Camp Arroyo in Northern California this past July. I admit it; I envisioned a camp full of damp, rustic low-grade bunk rooms complete with uncomfortable cots, outdated facilities and a scary camp counselor that smells like bug repellant from 1979. No wonder I don’t like to camp.
But all of those memories were squashed as we turned into the camp’s private gate and drove up the windy, curvy road and arrived to the splendor and peaceful serenity of Camp Arroyo. I looked around and there wasn’t one ugly building in the entire compound and not one sign of a cot. In fact, it was the opposite! All of the buildings at celiac camp, including the swimming pool were rehabbed to fit today’s sustainable eco-friendly practices. Pretty much everything had been designed and rehabbed to a tee, including the 100% gluten-free dedicated commercial kitchen. Needless to say, Camp Arroyo was my kind of camping!
Where are we?
Camp Arroyo is nestled amongst the rolling pastoral hills above the wineries dotting the East Bay of San Francisco. Owned and operated by the Taylor Family Foundation, Camp Arroyo is designed for kids with celiac disease – a safe food haven, summer get-a-way for children and teenagers who must follow a gluten-free diet.
What makes celiac camp at Camp Arroyo extra special (besides the uber-cool dining hall view of Mt. Diablo and the swimming pool) are the volunteers and staff behind the scenes that make everything happen, specifically Elaine Taylor, the Executive Director of the Taylor Family Foundation. What I cherish about Elaine, who also has celiac disease, is her uncanny passion and vision to ensure everyone who has celiac disease feels comfortable with their diagnosis and that it is not a struggle or a hassle to follow a gluten free diet. That’s why all of the meals at Camp Arroyo are prepared by hand, taste good and are made with the highest quality organic and natural ingredients.
How did we meet?
About a year ago, Elaine contacted Udi’s, after an exhausting 14-hours baking home-made gluten-free bread for camp. She told me about her quest for a soft, delicious gluten free bread to serve at camp and was interested in offering Udi’s to campers. She said, “There has to be a better way to do this, where I am not baking until 2 am!!” The more I learned about the Foundation’s mission, “to preserve the wellness and enhance the quality of life for children in Northern California who attend Camp Arroyo,” the more I realized how their mission aligned with Udi’s belief that food made with joy is a joy to eat.
It just made sense. Elaine was all about making good-tasting gluten-free meals for campers and Udi’s is all about making gluten-free delicious, so it was a no-brainer to form a partnership and donate our products for the camp, which also meant no more 2 am bread baking marathons for Elaine and the volunteers!
Community – it’s a word that’s sometimes overused, but that’s what Camp Arroyo is all about. It’s a community of kids with celiac disease, sitting down together eating lunch without worry of being served food that will make them sick. If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s all about the food at Camp Arroyo. And that’s why Udi’s partners with summer celiac camps like Camp Arroyo because at Udi’s Gluten Free we believe everyone should enjoy a sandwich or be able to bite into a gooey, cheesy slice of pizza at camp or when they return home.
On our last day of camp, we were invited to be guests at lunch. Kids 10 to 20 deep were lined up outside the ‘Dining Hall’ a half hour before lunch time. We soon realized it was “Grilled Cheese on Udi’s Gluten-Free Bread day.” Apparently, this was a BIG day at camp.
Before we could even finish setting the table, campers clamored to their chairs and all of a sudden the dining hall resonated, with the echoes and chants of 125 kids screaming at the top of their lungs, banging their forks on the tables, chanting, “Udi’s…Udi’s…Udi’s…Udi’s!”
I couldn’t believe it. Seriously, this went on for about 7 minutes. The sheer magnitude of hearing these screams for joy – for our gluten free bread…for grilled cheese sandwiches simply made my day. My week. Heck, it made my year. It certainly made me realize the importance of working for a company that I believe in and one that believes in giving back to the community. All for the love of grilled cheese sandwiches on our gluten free bread.
In all Udi’s Gluten Free donated 16 cases of gluten free bread, 5 cases of bagels and 8 cases of pizza crusts to Camp Arroyo, which totals out to about 320 sandwiches, 400 slices of bagels and 120 pizzas.
And that my friend makes us all happy campers.