- Associated Press - Sunday, June 28, 2015

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - Food is not Cici Hunter’s friend, so a summer camp about cooking was a hard match to make, for her or any other child with food allergies and sensitivities, said her mother Julie.

That seemed a shame, to Hunter and to the Banner School of Frederick, where 8-year-old Cici goes to school. The school lines up a summer full of all kinds of camps, including cooking, which are open to the public.

Banner does a great job keeping children with allergies safe in school and at camps, said Mary Vargas of Emmitsburg. Vargas’ son Perry, 7, attends Banner and has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts.

“They’re beyond careful; they’re fabulous,” Vargas said. “They care.”

Banner camp co-directors Judy Ballenger and Brittany Reaver said they wanted to go one step further this year, with a cooking camp for children with any food allergy. July 20 to 24, they will offer Sweet, Spicy, Savory and Safe: Cooking Class for Kids with Food Allergies, for children in second through fifth grade.

That is a good age to start to learn how to safely handle kitchen tools and equipment, Hunter said. She helped prepare the lesson plan, gathering recipes from cooking shows, Vargas and their own sources.

The school bought new pots, pans and kitchen equipment to be dedicated to the special campers’ cooking use, Reaver said.

Creating a safe environment generally is a manageable challenge, Reaver said. The staff is trained in emergency injections to reverse anaphylactic shock, so they are prepared to take children with all kinds of allergies.

What they will cook and make will depend on who signs up for the five days, Hunter said.

“Cici wanted it to be all cupcakes,” Hunter said, but that won’t happen.

The final menus will be set “once we know . exactly what allergies we’ll be dealing with,” Hunter said.

They will also tailor the experience a bit to the campers’ tastes, so, for example, if no one likes soup, soup will not be on the menu.

It could be, though, if there is interest in preparing cold soups for summer. So there might be tacos and salads - and definitely cupcakes.

“We want to be sensitive to kids’ tastes too,” Hunter said.

They wanted Cici and those with more severe allergies to have some fun with food for a change.

“She’s learning to kind of not like food,” Hunter said. “I want her to actually enjoy something she eats.”

The last day, campers will have a cook-off competition in the style of the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”

In addition to the fun, the campers will learn how to navigate their own adult cooking lives better.

It is sad that for Cici, who loves to watch “Cupcake Wars,” food is full of unseen risks that could make her miserable, her mother said. Cici’s allergies are not life-threatening, but still she is finding it easier to dismiss food rather than take a chance.

Cici’s digestive intolerance to gluten showed up as an infant, and her mother has navigated new eating habits since then. Hunter discovered her side of the family has a tendency toward gluten intolerance, while her husband’s side does not.

Hunter said it is a challenge to avoid unknown ingredients that may lurk in food.

“It’s hard figuring out,” she said.

Since Perry was born, Vargas, whose law practice focuses on disability discrimination cases, also handles cases where people with food allergies face discrimination. She educates businesses and others about legal requirements to accommodate people with allergies.

The Banner camp sets a good example, she said. Vargas hopes siblings and others with no allergies will participate so they can learn about what other children experience.

For the children with food allergies, it will be a rare opportunity to spend time being in the majority, with people who know what it is like to live as they do, concerned always about what food to eat and prepare.

“The kids - they really, really feel left out,” Hunter said. “We need to accommodate all of them.”

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Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, http://www.fredericknewspost.com

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