Good help isn’t hard to find (with video)

“What is your biggest challenge in your foodservice ministry?”

That question was posed to members of a Facebook group for Christian chefs.

Four of the first five responses surprised me.

  • “Finding enough staff to work Sundays …”
  • “Finding workers …”
  • “We also have occasional trouble staffing on Sundays …”
  • “Trying to find those true servants hearts …”

That’s a pretty unfamiliar problem for me.

When I worked at Camp Spofford 20 years ago, kitchen volunteers came from everywhere, worked weeks at a time and signed up to come back. At Camp Orchard Hill, there were so many volunteers, I met somebody new every weekend.

At Sacandaga Bible Conference, we inherited several young, eager helpers when we arrived 2 1/2 years ago, groomed a few more through summer kitchen staff and tapped hidden talent in other non-kitchen staffers. The result is a small but hardworking and uber-reliable year-round army we can deputize, whether it’s feeding 300 hunters for the sportsmen’s dinner, or the weekly feed-em-fast smorgasbords on summer Saturday nights, which include a frantic setup and takedown for 250.

What a blessing.

On Saturday for Sac’s Valentines dinner and concert, some arrived more than three hours early to help finish with setup. The rest were here 90 minutes before dinner, building salads, filling drinks, passing out rolls and plating desserts. And most were still here two or three hours later as we washed 1,000 pieces of silverware, about 800 plates — some by hand so we could stay ahead of the dishwasher and work quietly while musicians performed — and plenty of pots and pans. The clock had turned toward midnight when I kicked the last of them out.

I wish I could give my culinary brethern out there some advice, but our strategy is pretty simple:

  • Give them a chance to try something different. Most of them have taken turns behind the line with me or had the chance to expedite. A year ago, one spent the entire meal prepping 300 portions of chicken Parm and had a ball.
  • Say thank you with something besides your mouth. Cookies work. Homemade marshmallows do, too. In the summer, we treat each of our staffers and Saturday night volunteers to ice cream in the snack bar, which is the only thing that has an appreciable cost. I’ll bet they’d help without the ice cream, too.
  • Let them have fun. It’s not easy, particularly when your clientele may include some older, buttoned-up guests, so we encourage them to loosen up when the moment is right. We encourage creativity with whipped cream cans and squirt bottles. And leftover dinner rolls don’t have a chance with dinner roll baseball, as you’ll see from the video:
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