CANADA Families struggle to afford summer camp as inflation stretches...

Families struggle to afford summer camp as inflation stretches budgets

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Tim Good, Executive Director of Camp Kadesh, talks to campers. The non-profit camp is seeing an increase in demand for financial aid. “We just understand that this is what the kids need and I know that we will try to find all possible ways to run,” Good said. (Camp Kadesh)

The summer camp season has begun, but with record inflation, summertime childcare has become an unsustainable expense for families already overwhelmed by the higher cost of living.

Anneliese Lawton, a mother of three from Burlington, Ontario, said that the summer gymnastics camp her kids usually attend is not a financially viable option this year as their budget is being stretched by inflation. The camp she planned to send her two sons to costs $300 a week for each camper, and she couldn’t afford it.

“As soon as I did that, I thought, crap, we can’t let them do this,” Lawton said.

Instead, Lawton’s sons, aged four and five, respectively, will attend the city’s trampoline and acrobatic camp for part of the week.

The hired apprentice will help with childcare until the end of the week, like Lawton. combines a full-time remote job and a two-year-old child.

“Going to Costco now is like paying off a mortgage,” she said. “So, with the increasing cost of food and gas, it’s almost impossible to afford these camps on top.”

Inflation, operating expenses increase commission

With inflation peaking, summer camp—already a luxury for many families—is increasingly out of reach as families are forced to make tough spending decisions.

Canada’s inflation rate hit 7.7% last month, nearly a 40-year high. Compared to May 2021, consumers paid 48% more for gas, and food prices increased by 9.7% over the past year.

Anneliese Lawton is pictured with her two-year-old daughter. A Toronto mother said she can’t afford a summer camp for her kids this year as inflation has pushed her family budget up. (Presented by Annelise Lawton)

Just as parents have to plan for higher expenses, so do summer camps across the country. In many cases, this means that families will have to charge additional registration fees.

Summer camp authorities across Canada told CBC News that inflation has forced them to raise prices significantly, making their programs out of reach for some families.

The camps are dependent on essentials such as gas for boats, natural gas for barbecues, and food for campers. Inflation has significantly raised the prices of these essentials.

Summer camps typically set their fees well in advance and make small, incremental adjustments to adjust for inflation, said Stephen Jackson, president of the British Columbia Camp Association.

This year has been different at Camp Bob, a co-ed Christian wilderness camp in Campbell River, British Columbia. where Jackson is the chief executive.

While camp fees typically increase by $5-10 per year, this year the camp has raised its prices by $35 per week.

Jackson said the increase this year was so significant because there was no gradual price increase in 2021 and the camp was closed in 2020 due to COVID-19. When he added up the cost of inflation and the normal rise in prices that occurs year after year, he had no choice but to raise the fee.

“Inflation has been really significant and will continue to be significant,” Jackson said.

Lawton is pictured with her children aged two, four and five. “Visiting Costco right now is like paying off a mortgage. So with the rising cost of food and gas, it’s almost impossible to afford these camps on top,” she said. (Presented by Annelise Lawton)

Food, gas, and energy are not the only drivers of price increases. In May 2022, prices for the use of recreational facilities and services, including summer camps in the agency’s consumer price index, increased by 4.9% compared to May 2021, according to Statistics Canada.

In Montreal, Camp Ecolart, which also operates small adventure camps in Banff, Whistler and San Diego, raised prices by 30 percent.

“We’ve lost a lot of registrations because parents can’t afford it,” owner Mariano Liu said, “so it definitely has a direct impact on sales.”

Increased demand for financial assistance

While private camps have been forced to raise registration fees, non-profit organizations such as Camp Kadesh in Christopher Lake, Sask, are seeing record high demand for grants paid for by their donors.

Tim Good, chief executive of Camp Kadesh, said the camp lives on charitable donations and hasn’t had to raise prices this year. He said he had to ask donors for more money due to higher demand for financial assistance.

“What we’re seeing is a lot more people applying for subsidies,” Goode said. “We do it on a family basis.”

During a typical year, the camp puts $10,000 into its annual budget, which is used for subsidies, according to Good. But the need for financial assistance this year is over $20,000.

He says that in a typical year, the camp’s annual food budget is over $100,000. He fears that if food costs rise by 10 to 20 percent, his budget will be difficult to control.

“I think the most important thing for us will be food,” Goode said. “We’re already pushing ourselves hard trying to get every dollar of food to feed as many people as possible.”

Predicting his expenses is complicated by the fact that some expenses have not increased, and this makes managing the ledgers a difficult balancing act.

“It’s even hard to track,” said Goode, “because some things have gone far ahead, while others remain fairly stable.”

Tim Good, chief executive of Camp Kadesh in Christopher Lake, Sask, said that while the nonprofit didn’t have to raise prices this year, it saw higher demand for parents seeking financial assistance. (Presented by Tim Good)

Food expenses aren’t Good’s only consideration. Since Camp Kadesh is located on a lake, part of its program includes motor boats that consume gasoline. According to Statistics Canada, the cost of gasoline has risen nearly 40% since March last year and is currently hovering around $2 a litre.

The Amici Camping Charity is partnering with 47 summer camps in Ontario to offer financial support to low-income families with children ages seven to 17. The organization noted higher demand for its services this year.

The charity’s chief executive, Judy McGowan, told CBC News via email that the charity is seeing a 15 percent increase in motorhome applications compared to 2019.

Meanwhile, Goode says he understands the importance of summer camp and the extent to which it has been overlooked during COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

“We just understand that this is what the kids need and I know that we will try to find all possible ways to run,” Good said. “I think that would be the attitude of almost every camp across Canada.”

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