Mealtime: Behind the Scenes

Now that we are nicely settled into Session A, and looking forward to our second Shabbat tomorrow, we thought we’d take a moment to share a deeper dive into a central part of Camp – meals!

Kids love mealtime at Tawonga. It’s not just the great food, the many options or the beautiful setting. It’s because every meal is a reflection of the cooperative Tawonga culture and community they love.

It starts with the way campers share the various housekeeping tasks of living together.  Kids learn how to take responsibility for themselves through the “work wheel” posted in every bunk. In addition to sweeping and raking, the work wheel assigns the mealtime jobs of “setter” and “hopper”.  The setters leave the bunk 10 minutes early and set the tables for the rest of their bunk mates. They set out the plates, cups and flatware (all washable, no disposables). 

Then, the rest of the bunk comes into our outdoor dining pavilion (this season) and sits together with their counselors.  As a group-centered Camp, the relationships that are cultivated within each cabin are core to the Tawonga experience. Each bunk eats together, family style, at one big table. But before that, everyone joins in a joyous rendition of the Motzi, the blessing in Hebrew and English that expresses our gratitude for all of the people who made the meal possible, from the farmer to the truck driver to the cooks.

The youngest groups get their food first by sending a pair of “hoppers” to the kitchen (campers wear masks for this task). They pick up trays with huge platters of mains and sides. At the table, the counselors guide them to take appropriate portions so that everyone gets firsts, before the hoppers go back for seconds and thirds. Following the Tawonga ethos, “The campers always come first,” the counselors eat after all the children have been served.

When the “hoppers” go to the kitchen pass-through counter, they are greeted by a friendly kitchen crew, led by our Kitchen Manager, Frisco! Our kitchen staff is a seamless part of an undifferentiated staff team (including many camper alumni), and not considered a different level of staff.  We honor all work equally.

At the end of the meal, every camper helps clear the table by scraping and stacking dishes and then the hoppers bring the dishes to bins at the front of the dining pavilion. There are no waiters – kids take responsibility for themselves.

When the tables are all cleared and sponged, we sing a second blessing, the Birkat Hamazon, to express how good we feel now that we are full.  It’s tempting to rush off to the next thing. Instead, children again share a moment of gratitude.

Finally, at the end of every breakfast and dinner, our song leaders take over, and everyone joins in a spirited song session.  Now the kids are free to get up, dance, sing and share the joy of life’s simple pleasures at Tawonga.