Some of you wonder what my wife Jane does with her summers at Ontario Pioneer Camps. Well here’s a “sweet” article from the September edition of InterVaristy’s “The Insider,” a newsletter designed to connect InterVarsity staff from across the country that gives a bit of insight …
In the 1992 movie, Under Siege, Steven Seagal played a former SEAL, now a cook, who is the only person who can stop a gang of terrorists who seize control of a US Navy battleship. The running gag in the movie is the line that the bad guys repeat as Seagal keeps beating them: “But he’s only the cook!”
Jane Doyle started as head cook at Ontario Pioneer Girls’ Camp in 1996 and Sue Simmonds as assistant cook in 1998. Together they mobilize teams of volunteer helpers who prep food, chop, mix and assemble. But more than food gets dished out from the Girls’ Camp kitchen and these two women are hardly “only the cooks”.
“Our mission — what we feel like we do intentionally — is to feed campers food that is comfortable, nutritious and of good quality,” says Jane. “It’s served hot from the oven to the counter.”
“We like trying different things, some fun stuff. During the year, Jane finds new recipes to try out,” adds Sue.
Strategy is important. Says Jane: “I’ve got the food all figured out — menus, proportions, ingredients. Some volunteers tell us they like everything thought of and planned already, and all they have to do is come and be put to work. We’ve got kitchen guys who come through and we train them; one has become an assistant cook elsewhere. Our ladies and girls do things they don’t get to do at home: make fresh bread, bake 1,200 cookies (four kinds), 350 butter tarts, 600 biscuits….”
Kitchen activity could be all consuming, but Sue and Jane readily admit they have a covert mission: ministry.
“We nurture teams of girls and women,” says Jane. “Each morning after our breakfast at the back table, we spend time with a devotional story or thought and pray for requests from our volunteers and for camp specifically. We have experienced some incredible answers to prayer over the years.”
There’s a story to that back table. “We used to have a small, horrible picnic table, with chairs and milk crates for seats. Now, we have a big table under a gazebo that fits 15 people,” says Jane. The 252 service campers eat there, as well as the transportation and maintenance guys.”
“It’s one of my favourite ministries: feeding the maintenance and housekeeping staff and drivers coffee break, lunch and sometimes supper daily. Our prayer is that we are able to bless as well as nourish those who join us there.”
Laughter and TLC are essential ingredients to their mission of ministry, discipleship and healing. “Laughter is the most important thing,” says Sue. “Even when things are not going well, laughter releases stress.”
“We like to laugh at ourselves,” says Jane. “We say all the time what Ricky Ricardo used to say on the I Love Lucy show: ‘Lucy, you got some splaining to do.’”
Both Sue and Jane started at OPC as 10-year-old campers: Sue in 1957 and Jane in 1966. Their paths crossed at Girls’ Camp in 1968, when Jane was a camper and Sue was her section head in Pathfinders.
Over the past 50 years, Jane and Sue have been campers, camp staff, camper parents and volunteers. When asked why they’ve continued to cook at Girls’ Camp for 14-16 years, Jane says, “We love this place, the mission, the work. We’ve seen the value in both our families. We have seen leadership skills develop in families and in church, and the leadership has gone worldwide.
“It’s an LIT (Leaders in Training) ripple effect that you see five years, 10 years down the road. We have had husbands who have been supportive of our cooking at camp. We met them at camp, they understand camp, and they give us the freedom to go away each year for 10 weeks to minister whole heartedly at camp.”
The cooks serve up one last suggestion (along with a piece of pie): Consider volunteering in one of our camp kitchens. You’ll find yourself dishing out more than just food.