Serving Up An Experience To Remember

By Gina Hinch

From observing the youngest campers to tenured directors, the camp staff at Kanakuk in Branson, Mo., has watched the most influential among us lead peers and younger community members through humble service. Kitchies, the lighthearted name for kitchen staff members, are great examples of this. Each summer, Kanakuk employs more than 1,800 college students from far and wide, some of whom will work as Kitchies, cleaning the kitchen and preparing meals to fill hungry campers’ bellies.

Tirelessly, these young staffers work to provide timely, tasty meals for more than 10,000 campers while maintaining a fun environment that promotes connection. Kitchies stay behind the scenes, selflessly providing the perfect environment and fuel for developing lasting friendships around the table. Here are the top pieces of advice for leading college students to create the best summer-camp meal experience:

Most people probably don’t realize that every successful camp season is preceded by preparation of many months. Preparation during the off-season focuses on quality and service. We have high standards at Kanakuk, so we take time to ensure that suppliers meet our firm definition of food quality and scout others, if necessary. We also spend much of the year testing and perfecting recipes that reconcile flavor and nutrition and that can be made in bulk while keeping within organizational budgets. During the off-season, we continually review and update strict food-safety guidelines to maintain a secure environment for staff members and healthy food for campers.

Once spring rolls around, it’s time to start thinking about training and service. Training is the last leg of pre-Kamp preparation before diving back into summer. New Kitchies arrive prior to the start of camp, where they’ll receive specific tasks, learn the recipes, train on the equipment, master their serving duties, and more.

At the start of camp, the focus shifts to service, which is the end goal behind all nine months of preparation. If we prepare well, everything should run like clockwork.

Systemization is one of the most important elements to ensure efficient, seamless meal service. Having systems in place is essential for putting food out at the right time and in the right way. Systems also help kitchen staff to stay organized within their specific job duties and to keep everyone on schedule to clean and prepare for the next meal. Systems allow for a consistent experience in each of the five overnights and Family Kamps.

First, create a system that works. This means that kitchen managers must be trained to create and enforce production schedules, and train kitchen staff before campers arrive. At Kanakuk, training clinics are held before any other college staff members arrive, allowing the Kitchies to learn by first feeding a small group of staffers. A master meal menu with exact food specifications and cooking procedures is used, so the same menu is being prepared and served at all camps.

To ensure meal-time environments align with the overall Kanakuk experience, kitchen managers are trained not only on food preparation and service, but on our mission, vision, and values. This special training occurs before the arrival of the rest of the Kitchies so managers can be ready to lead.

Safety training goes beyond food preparation. Staff members are trained in environmental safety, recipe and menu expectations, and teambuilding exercises. There is a more holistic focus on serving the students we work with each year. Kitchies must feel that they are learning, growing, and connecting with Jesus (Kanakuk is a Christian organization) without getting lost in their everyday tasks.

In terms of leadership, the goal is to guide the kitchen staff while also equipping them to lead peers and campers. Through humble service and intentional leadership, Kitchies contribute to the Kanakuk culture as much as counselors do on the other side of the counter.

When it comes to leading college students, it’s important to be open, yet structured, cultivate relationships, and make the tasks and projects fun. For students, extended training hours and large amounts of information are not easily digested in one sitting. Training needs to be concise, relevant, and hands-on in order to stick. When working with students, empathy and understanding should be demonstrated whenever possible.

It is important to show appreciation for the staff throughout the summer to prevent burnout. From small gestures like individual thank-you notes to organized activities like group boat rides, signs of gratitude will not go unnoticed. What is the easiest gesture of all? Say “thank you” in abundance.

Kitchies’ tireless work in the kitchen and behind the counter provides the nourishment necessary for counselors to lead and campers to grow. Though kitchen work is rewarding, the summer is long, and it can be easy for morale to fall if one doesn’t take the time to actively encourage the team.

At Kanakuk, the environment is kept supportive, focused, and fun-filled by regularly praying and worshiping together, playing upbeat music in the kitchen, and encouraging one another. A few phrases help remind us of our purpose when things get crazy. The most frequent and effective is, “The kids are coming!” We also serve by the motto, “We serve behind the counter so that kids can hear the Gospel beyond the counter.” We often remind ourselves that “excellence, not perfection” makes tasks and standards seem near at hand.

At Kanakuk, we don't work for glory, but rather to glorify. Kitchies embody this value, perhaps more than anyone else on staff, by laying the foundation for everything we accomplish throughout the summer.

Gina Hinch, Food Service Director at Kanakuk Kamps in Brason, Mo., and her staff work together to provide a consistent experience for each camper across eight summer camps. Kanakuk’s high-quality standards, attention to detail, consistent work ethic, and encouraging environment are a result of Hinch’s guidance and servant leadership to her staff and campers. Reach her at