Feeding 7,000 at ‘the Creek’
by Mason Phillips
Falls Creek Correspondent
Falls Creek is a camp Southern Baptist churches have fallen in love with over the last 100 years. The truth is that each nostalgiac memory of “the creek,” young and old, varies from person to person. Everyone can identify how it feels to roll up your pant legs, kick off your shoes and wade through the clear waters of Boulder Springs.
Falls Creek is a camp that makes a senior adult feel like a teenager once again. The bell that tolls in the humid summer mornings reminds one of the immense amount of ministry that this camp has as everyone counts the souls and hearts that turn to the Lord on a typical night of camp. But there is another side to Falls Creek.
What is it that makes this place “happen?” What makes the wheels turn to make the creek run like the finely tuned machine it has become? There is no single person behind the curtain. There are a host of committed servants who can show us how the camp truly works. In this series of articles, I will become your tour guide and ambassador to a top secret look, a peek under the tent, a look behind the curtain at the special faces of this legendary camp. There are names few have ever known. My mission is to help you know them better. You will learn how 7,000 kids are fed, how this beautiful camp stays clean, how the many churches drive their buses in and out smoothly, what a staffer endures on a hot summer day and much, much more.
DAVIS—Thursday, June 2 was the first of many upcoming visits to Falls Creek for the summer of 2011. On this particular day, the mission was this: find out how a camp this large provides three meals a day, plus the various snacks and treats that a typical camper simply must have. I spoke with a number of people who gave me sound advice on how the sub-culture of food and cooking revolves and operates at a mega-camp like Falls Creek.
It was early morning when I got in the car. So when I arrived at Falls Creek, the first thing I wanted was a cup of coffee. The friendly faces of the campus directed me to the West End Coffee Shop. The summer of 2010 was the debut of the West End, and the response has been nothing but positive. I entered the nicely air-conditioned shop, ordered a refreshing can of iced coffee and started chatting with the baristas there in the quiet morning lull.
Sarah Stephens, a young staffer from Oklahoma Baptist University, let me know—along with Julie Swain—that there was more to the coffee shop than just a smart business decision. Swain commented on the mission the coffee lent to the camp itself, “It’s a great avenue of service so that staff can serve with a smile.” Stephens had a perspective about the featured guests of the camp, “A lot of bands and speakers come in and use it as an opportunity to mingle with the campers, which is a great ministry.”
They also elaborated on the great location of the shop. Since West End is not in the same lot as the Icee venders and snow-cone stands, it gets another crowd of people who might be staying in a cabin not so close to the traditional Icee stands. The campers on that side of the camp feel like it is a little something special for them.
The next person I knew I had to speak with was Don Brown, food services manager, an old friend and chef extraordinaire. Brown’s job is not to serve the campers three meals a day. His job is to serve the staff, as well as provide food for the many non-typical weeks of camp, including Native American week, Ethiopian week, Hispanic week, etc. When I walked into the kitchen, he and his staff were busy at work with food items and dishes that kept them moving at a brisk pace wherever they walked. I hugged the wall closely just to stay out their way.
I asked Brown if he could answer some questions and encouraged him to continue what he was doing. Nevertheless, he stepped away for a few moments to chat with me in his office. He told me about the significant resources it took to serve a week at camp. He said your typical convenience store might have one or two Icee machines and go through about a bag of syrup a week. Falls Creek, however, has nine machines and needs roughly 60 bags of syrup per week. I asked Brown about his relationship to his staff and how he sees his mission with them.
“God has given me this gift to make good food, and my spiritual gift is hospitality, so I have a mission to serve my staff as best I can,” said Brown.
I felt humbled by his mission to his staff. Comments about the food Brown provides show that even though he makes food for camp, it is not your typical camp meal from a bag or a can. As for the food that he serves the staff, he told me his motto is this: “Yes, it is camp food. But it doesn’t have to be camp food.”
Anyone who has been to Falls Creek might tell you about the food provided by their own cabin. I spoke with Todd Sanders, Falls Creek program associate, about the “Iron Chef” contest held by the camp each week to judge some famous dishes by churches.
“We judge in five different categories: beef, chicken, fish, dessert and late night snack/side dish. So we judge and choose a winner who will receive as a prize the warm round of applause by all who attend the event. Food at Falls Creek has literally become its own sub-culture,” he explained.
Sanders said all the winning recipes are posted to the website, www.skopos.org, for churches looking for great dishes to try for their cabins. He said they put information for those interested in competing in the sponsor book and in the student book. Cooks can submit entries in as many categories they desire.
The final person I spoke with was Bill Bergstrom, guest relations manager, who manages several operational matters at the camp. One may be familiar with refreshment carts used at golf tournaments to sell various items to spectators and athletes. Bergstrom had an idea for purchasing a cart to sell soda and other refreshments to students on the streets of Falls Creek. He told me the cart was already very popular.
“The staff had talked about something like an ice cream truck. So we found out that the golf cart companies actually make carts with the cooling boxes on the back. It tours around the camp and sells items to campers, and then returns to be re-stocked . . . the kids love it. They see the colorful cart and chase it down. It reminds them of the old ice cream truck from their home town,” he said.
The one thing I made sure to ask of everyone I spoke to throughout my morning was this: what is the best thing you ever ate? Here at Falls Creek, if someone comes to camp, in what should they be sure to indulge? When I asked the ladies of the West End, they told me that even in the summer heat, a crowd favorite is still a hot cup of coffee. After asking Brown, he told me not to pass up the West End cinnamon roll. Bergstrom felt the same way, as well as Sanders. The must eat, do not pass up, number one item to check out this summer is the West End cinnamon roll. Sanders told me that over all of these, on a hot summer day, walking on “the surface of the sun,” the classic Icee is the only thing sharp enough and cold enough to keep you refreshed.