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It's hard to imagine that a box filled with candy would satisfy a generation of summer campers that grew up with computers, Palm Pilots and cell phones. It's just as well. While there is no universal policy against it, most camps discourage parents from sending care packages containing food to kids at camp.
Food is contraband because it attracts all sorts of unwanted critters, from mice to ants, says Jeffrey Solomon, executive director of National Camp Association, a membership organization of camp-related professionals. Certain foods, especially peanuts, also may pose a serious health risk to bunkmates with food allergies, adds Solomon.
Most camps also prohibit electronic gadgets. “Cell phones and electronics are contrary to the goals of most camps,” says Marla Coleman, president of the American Camping Association, a nonprofit organization with more than 6,900 members. “Camps help children to develop (their) independence and healthy living skills, such as physical fitness and an appreciation for nature and the outdoors,” she says. In general, camps will not be responsible for lost or stolen items, and electronic items can be quite valuable, she adds.
With all these restrictions, what’s a parent to do? Many turn to cyber camp care package companies — goodie basket companies that cater to kids at camp. “For the parent that wants to do ‘one-stop shopping,’ the professional companies are a great way to go,” says Coleman. “They usually respect the camp's rules regarding food policies, etc. and offer a nice selection and nice packaging.”
One of the largest companies online, eswak.com or Sealed with a Kiss sent out 18,797 packages to about 3,000 camps in the United States last summer, says Julie Winston, the company’s founder. Winston’s staff picks out items to include in each package from an inventory of 1500 products, stored in a 6,000-square-foot space in Rockland, Md.
Most camp care package companies offer several sized packages. Eswak.com has three sizes. The $28-pack contains 6 to 7 items; the $37 pack has 9 to 10 goodies; and a $45 package comes with an assortment of 12 to 13 products. Ground shipping runs about $8 per package. Memphis, Tenn.-based fussbudget.com also has three sizes — $35, $50 and $100 — and shipping is included. The number of items stashed in a package from Brevard, N.C.-based camppacs.com depends on the type of container it is shipped in. The basic pack with 8 to 9 items cost $35. For the same price, 7-8 items arrive in a reusable duffel bag or colorful shower caddy.
Personalize your care packageAlthough each package is personalized, most camp care packages contain “weird, gushy stuff, glow stuff, brain teasers, a plush animal, interactive toys and games,” says Ann Hollingsworth, who founded camppacs.com 17 years ago.
Like many of her competitors, Jennifer Fuss Pierotti, founder of fussbudget.com, uses information supplied by the parents plus a child’s gender and age to decide what to send. If a parent says “my child has a fantastic sense of humor,” says Pierotti, “we’ll usually include a whoopee cushion, glow-in-the-dark eyeballs that roll down a mirror or window, some truly disgusting balls with eyeballs inside — the older boys adore these — noise putty and of course, gooey glow-in-the-dark stretch hearts and brains.” If a parent says their daughter is a “girly girl,” Pierotti ships outs “a miniature version of (their) 'Tweeny Take Out,'” a take-out container filled with personal items, such as mood lipstick, toe rings, body glitter and more.
Winston, who set up shop in 1984, also takes into account parent’s feedback but has developed a rather meticulous system when it comes to packing up the goods. Girls’ packages always have 1. a huggable item, such as a plush animal; 2. a game to play with bunk mates; 3. a personal item, such as lotion, gel or glitter; and 4. an autograph item. Packages for boys always include something to do outdoors and a game to play with a friend.
Winston also says she keeps track from year to year what each camper receives, so there is no duplication. A sample package this year for a 13-year girl might include: 1. a plush Teddy bear dressed in flannel pajamas; 2. a Mystical Orb that foretells the future; 3. a Nick and Nora cosmetic case with a lip gloss sampler; 4. an ankle bracelet and 5. an autograph pillow. A 13-year-old boy's package might contain: 1. a poker game in a collector’s tin; 2. a plastic puzzle; 3. a hyper flex flyer; 4. a hacky sac ball that lights up; 5. a rope trick; and 6. a trick wand.
Winston says she is also prepared to handle requests for “up-to-the-minute” kids. “One mother called the other day and said her daughter was 12 and goes for a massage every month,” says Winston. “Get the picture?” says Winston and then laughs. Winston plans to send this tween a spa party kit. The kit, which comes in a pink pail, contains everything 5 ($18) or ten ($28) home-spa patrons would need to have a party, including nail polishes, nail polish remover, pumice/nail brush, emery board, moisturizing aloe gel, nail tattoos, toe separators and cotton pads.
Other parents say “he’s so bright…you’ll have to knock his socks off. Oh Mensa, he’s beyond that,” says Winston. This kids’ package will include some Mensa riddles and conundrums.