Saturday, June 8, 2024

Today’s suggested packing lists for 7-week camps can include, inter alia, 2 sets of sheets, 6 towels, 3 pairs of sneakers, 25 pairs of underwear, 25 pairs of socks, sports equipment, toiletries, more than 20 tops and shorts, and 10 pairs of pajamas—split between lightweight and heavy

These Parents Are Shelling Out to Have Someone Else Pack Their Kids for Camp. By Tara Weiss

At elite sleep-away camps, some costing upward of $15,000, the pressure is on for parents to send junior off with all the right gear

June 6, 2024 8:00 am ET

Hayley Mooney recoiled as she opened her son’s trunk after it returned from seven weeks at overnight camp. She was hit with an odor so foul she figured an animal had crawled inside and croaked.  

Nope, just a moldy wet bathing suit. 

So when she learned First Class Laundry Services in West Palm Beach, Fla., offers post-camp trunk pickup and drop-off, she eagerly ponied up $450 — $225 per trunk—to have everything washed, folded and returned to her front door. Mooney could catch up with her kids instead of sorting through muddy socks and grass-stained shirts. 

Popular sleep-away camps, which can run upward of $15,000, are significantly more intense than when today’s parents attended in the ’80s and ’90s. Social media showcases an array of perceived must-haves. (Are monogrammed gel seat cushions for bleacher-sitting a necessity or extravagance? Discuss.) 

The 100+ item packing list provided by some camps is driving some parents to outsource the buying, labeling, packing to experts—and of course all that dirty laundry.

“If you have disposable income and you don’t want to touch it, you’re sending it out,” says First Class Laundry owner Natalie Matus, who launched post-camp service last summer. “A lot of my clients won’t even let their housekeepers touch them.” 

Today’s suggested packing lists for seven-week camps can include a light blanket and warm comforter, two sets of sheets, six towels, three pairs of sneakers, 25 pairs of underwear, 25 pairs of socks, sports equipment and toiletries. Then, there are clothes for most every weather scenario, including a raincoat and boots, fleece jacket, more than 20 tops and shorts, and 10 pairs of pajamas—split between lightweight and heavy.

Miscellaneous items include foldable Crazy Creek chairs, a kaboodle to hold hair ties, makeup and nail polish, flashlights, decorative pillows for optimal bunk coziness, family photos to fend off homesickness, games and personalized lockboxes for, say, smuggled-in candy. 

“Color War” is its own sartorial challenge. At this epic end-of-summer tournament, campers sport their team’s color and compete in events. But since the kids don’t know what color they’ll be assigned, parents often pack for four possibilities.

For the buying, many families make a “camp appointment” with a personal shopper at Denny’s, a children’s boutique in New York, New Jersey and South Florida. Associates greet them with their camp’s packing list printed out. Spencer Klein, whose family has owned Denny’s since 1978, says the average spend for a new camper appointment is $1,500 to $2,000. (A coveted perk: the store labels everything for free.)

Beth Leffel, of Boca Raton, Fla., spent about $2,000 at Denny’s three years ago preparing for her daughter’s first summer of camp and $250 at Party City, buying each potential color spiritwear her daughter could be assigned for color war. She said sending a child to camp well-equipped is a way parents can show love from afar.

“I wanted her to have everything everyone has,” says Leffel, an interior designer. “I didn’t want her to be without, especially since I’m not there. I didn’t want her to feel different because other kids have this or that. That first summer I went above and beyond.”

The next summer, Leffel started researching deals and dupes of name-brand wares, snagging attire on Amazon that looks like the Lululemon brand for a fraction of the price. Now, she shares her finds with fellow camp parents via her Instagram handle, The Savvy Camp Mom.

This year, for the first time, Dara Grandis, a Manhattan mom of three, hired professional organizer Meryl Bash to pack for her three children, who head off in late June for seven weeks at camp.

“This is the first week I haven’t traveled for work in a few months and I’d rather spend time with my kids versus stressing out over what is going into the trunk,” says Grandis, an executive. “Right now my living room is a dumping zone,” she adds. “It looks like an organized tornado.”

Bash will swoop into the family’s home to assess the packing situation and figure out what’s missing from the list. (For an additional charge, she will come before the packing day and have campers try on last season’s clothes to see what still fits.)

On packing day, Bash and her team arrive armed with tape and an assortment of storage cubes and bags. They meticulously pack each with a designated category: shirts and shorts; bedding and towels, bathing suits, socks and bras; toiletries; bunk junk like games, Mad Libs and books. 

Anything not already marked gets labeled along the way. For prep and packing days, Bash charges $125 per hour, and $100 per hour for an additional packer. It takes three to six hours, depending on the number of campers per household.

Her team even addresses envelopes—which are then neatly stored in a Ziploc with stationery—to make writing home easier. “If the space feels organized, it gives them a leg up,” says Bash, of campers and their bunks.

Nicole Fisch of Larchmont, N.Y., breathed a sigh of relief when her neighbor launched Camp Kits, a camp toiletry company, this year. Fisch recalls the summer she was “so crazed” about properly wrapping them that she accidentally sent all of her son’s toiletries in her daughter’s trunk.

Camp Kits’ bundles of toiletries, costing from $98-$185, magically appear on bunks before camp starts -without the parents lifting a finger.

“A lot of our clients believe the best thing you can spend your money on is your time,” says Diana Cooper, co-owner of The Concierge Crew, a Boca Raton-based personal-assistant company offering camp shopping, packing and labeling. “Let the crew take the stress out of camp prep,” says its website.

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