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Summer camp in a box

Most summer camps across the Eastern Territory are closed this year due to COVID–19, a move that forced youth leaders to scramble for another way to build into children’s lives.

Hundreds of children would normally descend on Star Lake Camp in New Jersey this summer. Instead, leaders in the Greater New York (GNY) Division came up with an alternative called “Free Camp in a Box,” which includes several fun activities.

Captain Antonio Rosamilia, the youth and associate candidates’ secretary in GNY, said 185 boxes a week will be delivered for six weeks (1,110 total) to corps in the division. The program, which is for children ages 7–12, starts July 6.

“None of the kids are even allowed to go to the park in New York City. So, at least, we’ll give them something to do at home,” Rosamilia said.

A virtual “camp counselor” will be hired for each corps to touch base with the kids each day.

“There will be a Zoom meeting every day and then during the day they can do the activities,” Rosamilia said.

The boxes feature Bibles, a T–shirt, camp gear, sunglasses, various arts & crafts, snacks, games, paint sets, pencils, balloons, crayons, and chalk to write Bible verses.

Captain Antonio Rosamilia wears a Star Lake Camp face mask as he packs camp boxes.

Rosamilia said each week will have a theme. The focus for the last two weeks is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM).

Meanwhile, corps that normally hold a summer day camp will also get in on the fun by offering a “Summer Day Camp in a Box” since COVID is preventing large gatherings.

Lieutenant Cristina Spencer, the corps officer in Medina, Ohio, said 100 children signed up for the boxes—roughly quadrupling the number who typically attend summer day camp at the small corps.

“We have 100 kids signed up and we have a waiting list of over 30 kids,” Spencer said. “Our goal is to provide some sort of normalcy to children in the community, especially during this time. It also helps parents who are out of work and have to entertain their children.”

Spencer said she expected 30–40 kids to sign up, but had 100 requests in three days. The corps can only accommodate about 25 children at a time when the building is open.

“We got a lot more than we expected, which is great,” Spencer said. “The best part of these summer camp boxes is that we’re reaching a new population. We haven’t had a relationship with most of these kids at all.”

Spencer said the boxes, which are for ages 6–12, include daily devotionals, snacks, activities, and crafts.

The weekly themes running through July are Lego Week (“Building the Kingdom”), Art Week (“We’re God’s masterpiece”), Superhero Week, Science Week, Candy Bar Week, Pirate Week, and Spy Week.

Spencer hopes children can return to the corps in person later in the year.

“Hopefully at the end of this, we can attract some of the kids to the corps,” she said. “We’re excited about the opportunity. We’re hoping that it encourages other people to seek the gospel. We want to reach out to these families and build relationships with them.”

by Robert Mitchell

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