Throughout the month of December, we will be highlighting the stories of former Camp Rising Sun counselors to hear what they valued most in their program areas and how donations made these opportunities possible. We hope this blog series will give our alumni and friends a better understanding of how the donations we receive throughout the year directly impact the experience of campers during the summer.
This week, Antonella Cornejo (CRS ’16-’17) reflects on two summers working in the CRS kitchen and the importance of cultural meals to the camp experience.
During the summer, campers have the opportunity to share a dish that is important to their home life or culture. Many of the ingredients required for these special meals are unique to different regions of the world and are not as readily available for purchase through our traditional vendors at an affordable rate. This means our kitchen team must allocate additional funds to purchase the right quantities of these ingredients, often from nearby shops. Ingredients like saffron, phyllo dough, seaweed, marula, cottage cheese, and even rice vinegar start to add up when purchased in large quantities. Thanks to donations from our alumni and friends, Antonella had a budget that allowed her to get the ingredients needed for some amazing cultural meals over the past two summers.
Read Antonella’s reflection on these cultural meals below:
Many say that Camp is home away from home, but what is home?
Home is people, home is comfort, home is peace, but especially home is food. When a camper grabs a spoon, puts it in their mouth and closes their eyes, their face lights up, they are brought back home for five seconds and they feel happy.
I have been part of the Camp Rising Sun family for two years and luckily, I was part of the kitchen staff. The kitchen has a magnificent power to set the mood inside Camp. I remember talking to the Kitchen Director in 2016, Tom. He always reminded his staff that the most important part of our job was to have a good meal plan because this would lead to energetic campers and counselors, therefore to a great camp session. The kitchen is a safe place for campers because they get to express themselves through food and teach the kitchen staff how to prepare their favorite meal. They can get the whole community to travel to their home country and share it with them.
The first time a camper tastes his or her own meal is key to how the evening is going to turn out. They plan the entire theme, they set up and decorate the dining hall, and they dress in their cultural attire. However, how the camper feels is the most important aspect of the cultural meal. They must make many choices; when to serve dinner, how to serve it, how much food to prepare, how many people can eat it, and what about the people with different dietary preferences? Working under pressure is not easy, but they manage it, and when the meal is ready they only have to taste it and tell the leaders of the day, referred to as "sachems," to call for the dining hall bell.
The best part of being a kitchen counselor was working with the kids and their cultural meals. At first, they struggled because ingredients were different. They always want their meal to be perfect, and they feel this pressure to represent their culture and show it to many people. We made a huge effort to get all the ingredients to make their meals as the ones they eat at home. Some ingredients have a higher price and are harder to find, especially if you have to cook for 100 or more people.
My job was to make sure campers had a smile on their face at the end the day and to make it possible to take the whole community on a trip to another country and make the campers proud of what they had done. To ensure this, I had to get all the ingredients, adjust the recipe and sometimes translate many papers. It was a lot of work.
Then I realized it was not all for one camper. The amount of knowledge transmitted by creating a cultural meal is amazing; the ingredients can tell you about the weather of that country, their seasonings can tell you the history behind the dish and the fun facts campers share about each dish are always interesting to learn. But this magical moment had to be kept under a budget, and managing funds and resources to make these meals happen within the budget was worth it. Because these meals taught 120 minds about an important aspect of culture: food.
Camp is home away from home, and the way it becomes our home is because of every single detail. Cultural meals make Camp a safe place to share and learn. Every cent donated to Camp is for something special, whether it is for plane tickets, water, light or food. Every single detail is important to making Camp magical.
- Antonella Cornejo (´16, ´17), with some help from Andrea Cornejo (‘06, ‘07, ‘14)