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Parents are demanding answers about the alleged troubling circumstances involving a New Hampshire kids' summer camp before it abruptly shut down after six days.
Camp Quinebarge, a rustic overnight camp in Moultonborough, New Hampshire, sent campers home and closed its doors after less than a week of operations earlier this month, according to The Boston Globe.
The announcement came as a complete surprise to parents, who say they were told to pick up their children the next day despite having paid $3,400 for a two-week experience, the outlet reported.
Parents later learned about the circumstances leading to the camp's closure, including poor dining conditions, a lack of staff training and even a physical altercation between campers as well as camper and counselors, according to the Globe.
The shocking allegations have since drawn comparisons to the failed Fyre Festival in 2017, where music fans infamously shelled out thousands for what they thought would be a luxurious weekend on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. Instead, attendees were met with serious organizational flaws and ramshackle conditions, including flimsy tents and cheese sandwiches for meals.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Eric Carlson, the Executive Director of Camp Quinebarge, attributed the issues to an unexpected and last-minute staff shortage, as well as a food delay by their longtime supplier, Sysco. He said the parents would receive partial refunds.
"The decision to cancel the remaining sessions after just a week of camp [was] so heartbreaking. It was a decision not made lightly," said Carlson, in part. "Through discussions with other camp directors, it became clear that many were experiencing the same challenges. At no time were we going to push past our limits and we closed when it became clear the staffing and food issues were not improving and were likely to get worse."
Camp Quinebarge/Instagram Campers at Camp Quinebarge
"Without a doubt, this was a result of complications brought on by the pandemic and not due to any long-term issues with camp operations," Carlson added. "When we communicated this to our families, they were disappointed but overwhelmingly understood."
Sysco also issued a statement to PEOPLE, confirming that there was a food delay on their end due to labor shortages and supply chain disruption. The supplier said they were prepared to deliver to the camp, just one day later than what was expected, when they were notified of the closure.
"Despite our best efforts, some of our customers have been impacted by delayed deliveries. We value our customers and regret the impact of service delays to Camp Quinebarge and the families affected by the Camp's decision to close," said the food supplier, in part.
According to the Globe, issues at the camp first arose two weeks before it was scheduled to begin when Carlson sent a letter to the parents and stated that the camp was "in desperate need of additional staff for this summer" after 15 staffers "dropped or ghosted."
Carlson reportedly said in the note — which was obtained by the outlet — that he was looking to hire 15 to 20 more people "this week when our training begins."
Several staffers spoke to the Globe afterward and confirmed that they were hired during that period but received minimal vetting or training.
"I was hired about 4 days before campers arrived," MJ Lowry, a 21-year-old counselor, told the outlet. "They just kind of said, 'Hey you were referred, we'll send you the application. You seem to be qualified, do you want the position?'"
Of the training period, Lowry added: "I played kickball, and got to see the turtle and the frog in the pond and learn about tadpoles. It was stuff like that."
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In part of his statement to PEOPLE, Carlson confirmed that "15 counselors and one nurse who had committed to us for the summer simply did not show up. Additional staff left during training in mid-June, part of a trend across the country of finding and retaining staff."
"While it was a cause for concern, my staff and I were confident we could still provide the same outstanding, nurturing experience Quinebarge has for over 8 decades," Carlson continued. "Unfortunately, more staff departed at the beginning of camp and finding new staff, especially under Covid restrictions, proved very difficult and time-consuming."
Carlson also told the Globe that "at no time were corners cut with regard to the vetting of staff or our mandatory training," and noted 52 counselors and 13 counselors in training were employed on day 1 but five to six counselors quit and three more were later fired.
Once camp kicked off, more problems unfolded, including the food delay and conflicts between overworked counselors, who allegedly screamed at each other in front of campers, according to the Globe.
One 8-year-old camper alleged to the outlet that he was hit in the head with a wooden block by another camper. The camper's mother claimed he was bruised when he returned home.
The boy's counselor alleged that he was also punched in the face by the same child and given a bloody lip, the Globe reported. (Carlson told the Globe that Camp Quinebarge "took immediate action and removed the child from camp.")
Other reported problems included a broken commercial dishwasher, which allegedly led to the campers eating off of dirty dishes, and a staffer's child being served what was described as a mostly-raw meatball during one meal, the Globe reported, citing a counselor who worked in food prep. (The cook was later dismissed, the outlet confirmed.)
Carlson told the Globe the dishwasher only had an issue for one meal, and the dishes were always properly washed.
Additionally, at least four campers allegedly vomited and had to be quarantined — a report that Carlson confirmed to the Globe, adding that the parents of children were notified.
Parents also claimed their children's letters home were delayed and calls and e-mails to camp administrators went unanswered, according to the Globe.
"We have been in tears, bored, and devastated the whole day. [The camp director] is lying to you all," one camper wrote in a note, which was given to the Globe by his father. "You have to trust us. You have to. We are not joking and we are not having fun. So many things are wrong with this place."
Midway through the camp's first week, Carlson sent out a note to parents explaining that "the past couple of days have been a bit rough," but the kids were safe and "overwhelmingly having a good time," according to the outlet. The following day, parents were told to pick up their children, the Globe reported.
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Though many parents were left furious and confused — "Shock does not even begin to cover it," read a letter from Rebecca Gove, a parent of two children attending the camp — some told the Globe they didn't blame Quinebarge for closing their doors.
"[The] kids are annoyed, they're upset, they would rather be at camp than with us. [But] they're all fine," parent Brian Roemer explained to the outlet, adding that Quinebarge was a "fantastic place" that both his children have attended for years.
Despite the unexpected circumstances of this year's camp, Carlson told PEOPLE in his statement that he looks forward to moving past this and preparing for summer 2022.
Carlson's full statement on the matter is as follows:
"For 85 years, Camp Quinebarge has been one of New England's most enduring summer camps; a place where experiential learning, making memories and friendships, trying new things in a safe and inclusive community are the cornerstones of what we do. We are a proud independent Camp accredited by the American Camp Association and licensed by the state of New Hampshire.
After Camp was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, we were eager to once again offer our campers the opportunity to spend the summer in the heart of New Hampshire's Lakes and Mountains regions where they could have wonderful experiences, make friends and come together as a community. In many ways, the one week of camp this summer resembled any other in our long history: There was a lot of laughing, singing and playing, and the kids loved the non-activity time the most as they were able to just hang out and be kids. That is what made the decision to cancel the remaining sessions after just a week of camp so heartbreaking. It was a decision not made lightly.
Two significant issues, combined, proved insurmountable.
* We pride ourselves on providing a staff that can meet campers needs and ensure our campers have a happy, healthy and positive summer camp experience. At first, 15 counselors and one nurse who had committed to us for the summer simply did not show up. Additional staff left during training in mid-June, part of a trend across the country of finding and retaining staff. While it was a cause for concern, my staff and I were confident we could still provide the same outstanding, nurturing experience Quinebarge has for over 8 decades. Unfortunately, more staff departed at the beginning of camp and finding new staff, especially under Covid restrictions, proved very difficult and time-consuming.
* The second was that Sysco, our long-time food supplier, informed us of food delivery delays in week one and we were told they would continue indefinitely. Other camps and local restaurants were reporting similar disruptions, with one camp needing to pick up their food in Maine. By the end of week one, with another delay announced, it was clear this was not a tenable solution for the remainder of the summer.
Through discussions with other camp directors, it became clear that many were experiencing the same challenges. At no time were we going to push past our limits and we closed when it became clear the staffing and food issues were not improving and were likely to get worse. When we communicated this to our families, they were disappointed but overwhelmingly understood.
As far back as I can remember, Camp Quinebarge has been my second home. I was a camper and counselor in the 1980's, before my wife and I officially became the owners this past spring. It is heartbreaking for me and all those staff, campers, and families who were so excited for our 85th summer. We desperately wanted to make the summer of 2021 a return to normalcy but were ultimately unable to. We immediately notified families that they would be refunded their tuition for the remainder of the summer.
We sincerely apologize to all those families and staff members who were impacted by our premature closure. Without a doubt, this was a result of complications brought on by the pandemic and not due to any long-term issues with camp operations. Despite the disappointment, we have received many calls and emails of support and look forward to seeing campers once again in 2022.
As always, our most important goal will remain fostering a nurturing environment for all children, where they can grow as individuals and as a group."