The Heart and Soul of Camp El Tesoro: Kitchen Staff

You know what they say – a camp is only as good as its cooks. Well, actually, no one says that. But maybe they should.

Because we don’t know any parents who would send their kiddos away for a week or two without knowing that they would be well fed. Fortunately, that’s one of the things we work to make happen all summer long at Camp El Tesoro.

Our hardworking and dedicated kitchen staff makes sure our campers and camp staff are full and satisfied all summer long. Not only do they prep and prepare delicious, nutritious, and well-balanced meals three times a day throughout the week, but they also accommodate campers’ food allergens and dietary restrictions.

Lisa Epps, Food Services and Housekeeping Manager, started part-time at Camp El Tesoro in 2007 and became full-time in 2014. Her assistant, Dianne McKinley, started part-time in 2012 and became full-time in 2018. This summer, they are joined by Sara Callahan, Child Nutrition Manager at Granbury’s Emma Roberson Early Learning Academy; Sarai Malone (Miss Sara), Cleburne Independent School District; and Marissa Skaggs, whose parents – Brian and Carol Skaggs – also volunteer for the camp.

For these ladies, a typical day in the kitchen starts as early as 5:30 am so they can have breakfast ready before 8 am. Before 9, they run snacks down to day camp. They then start prepping for lunch which takes place between 11:45 am and 1:45 pm, serving both overnight and day campers. Once that wraps up, they clean up from lunch. Depending on how busy the day is, they might take a break. But, most days, that doesn’t happen. Around 3:30 or 4 pm, they’re back at it with dinner preparations. And then they call it a day around 8 pm.

To ensure campers have everything they need food-wise, the kitchen has a delivery about 2-3 times a week. If the creek is up, the 18-wheeler delivery truck stays in the parking lot beyond the swinging bridge and the kitchen staff gets help from the maintenance staff to dolly food from the truck onto a trailer. Maintenance then takes the trailer up to camp and unloads it. “So, we love no rain,” Lisa says with a laugh.

Dianne says her favorite thing to cook is hamburgers. When Vestal Odom, Camp El Tesoro’s Site Director, is not around to grill them, she turns to the steamer. “It’s so easy,” she says. “You put it in the steamer and that’s it.”

Lisa’s favorite thing to cook is pulled pork, and she has brought several significant changes to the dining hall since she started, one of which is making sure that campers with special dietary needs or restrictions are taken care of.

“Back in 2007, we didn’t have many special dietary concerns, but now have a lot,” Lisa and Dianne recall. “Gluten-free, lactose-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, pescatarian, no cheese.” But whatever the concern, Lisa and her staff do their best to make sure it’s not only addressed, but also tasty!

“We once made the mistake of making egg rolls and fried rice for one camper who was vegetarian and then everyone became vegetarian because it was good and they all wanted some,” Lisa says. “Also, everybody loves bacon. We’ve had some kids eat bacon and then turn around and tell us they’re vegetarian.”

Lisa is also proud of how the dining hall’s salad bar has grown.

“When I first started, the salad bar was only four items. We brought it up to 14 items to cater to vegetarians,” she says. “You can make a meal off of the salad bar now.”

Camp El Tesoro is thankful to have such an incredible kitchen staff. These ladies love to cook, but they love who they cook for even more. Despite their busy schedules, Lisa and Dianne take time to interact with camp counselors and they know many campers by name.

This summer, especially, Lisa loves seeing campers enjoy horseback riding and time at Lake Leo.

“You get kind of attached to some of these kids,” she says.