By: Lilly Walsh, FARE Teen Advisory Group
When I was little, my mom would tell me about her wonderful days at Camp Alleghany, her sleepaway camp in West Virginia. She shared stories and sang camp songs with me, and before I could walk, I knew that I wanted to share in that joy someday. However, I am severely allergic to milk and peanuts, so as I got older, the idea of three weeks away from my family felt both daunting and unrealistic.
It was the kind words of the camp’s head chef, Ms. Hazel Mines, who helped me realize that summer camp was not only possible, but totally manageable. Ms. Hazel was as much a part of the camp as any campers or staff. No one could think of camp without thinking of Ms. Hazel and her delicious food. In many ways she was the cornerstone of camp itself. She must have known I was nervous because the first thing she told me was that she had helped dozens of kids in my situation before, and not to worry, I was going to become another one of her “babies.” That was all I needed to hear. She didn’t mind that I would come into the kitchen, where no other campers were allowed, and double-read labels just to be safe. I didn’t need to worry, though; not once did Ms. Hazel make a mistake. She knew exactly what I needed.
Without the worry of my food allergies, I was able to focus on my time at camp, making friends, overcoming challenges and growing as a person. I always knew that Ms. Hazel was in the kitchen if I needed her, not just for my food, but for hugs and stories, too.
Seven years later, Ms. Hazel has retired after more than 50 years of service to Camp Alleghany. I was heartbroken to hear the news and it hasn’t been quite the same for me without her, but Ms. Hazel’s legacy lives on through her “babies.” Ms. Hazel made it possible for me to do something that is quite simple to most people, but wasn’t for me. My camping experiences have changed me for the better, and I owe that to Ms. Hazel. Ms. Hazel is my Food Allergy Action Hero.
Lilly Walsh, age 16, is a high school junior living in Austin, TX. Her hobbies include baking, reading, playing tennis and babysitting. Lilly is allergic to milk, peanuts, and some fruits and vegetables.
May is Food Allergy Action Month! We are profiling and thanking our Food Allergy Action Heroes throughout the month of May to show the many ways that our community is making a difference. Go to www.foodallergyweek.org to learn more about how you can take action and become a Food Allergy Action Hero yourself!