At age 6, a young Chantel holds her hall pass while watching the school Lunch Lady busy at work with meal prep for the day. Drawn in by the smells and cool ‘90’s bops that flow from the kitchen, the Lunch Lady, catches on and invites Chantel into her culinary world filled with magic, music, and creativity. It’s the beginning of Chantel’s lifelong journey to create that same feeling of love in the kitchen, now from the shores of Camp Sealth.
Chantel Jackson, Food Service Director at Camp Sealth and Owner/Chef of Thyme Well Spent, paints such a picture as she describes her journey from that time in school to where she finds herself now. A Tacoma local, she shares,
“I’ve always loved food, beginning with the time helping the Lunch Lady at school. It served me as both a hobby AND a job, and helped me find myself when I was lost.”
Chantel credits her love for feeding others as what saved her life when she was walking a “dark path” at the time of the recession. She discovered herself again through making plates and catering for barber shops out of her mom’s kitchen. That quickly grew into not just feeding barbers but the customers too, and soon catering for construction sites and other local businesses. Chantel put herself through small business classes and culinary school. She continued to find more gifts in her creativity and catering skills, channeling that drive next into opening her own business, Thyme Well Spent, launching a Philly Cheesesteaks food truck, CJ’s, and creating her own curriculum for starting a food business.
It was through her catering business that Chantel would first find the world of camping when invited to another local camp to cook for a group staying there. Invited to join in for the weekend and feed the guests, Chantel had her first insight into the all-encompassing world of cooking for overnights and spending extended time with those who got to enjoy her food. From there, she joined a year-round job list for camp positions, waiting and watching until 2 years later when she found the posting for Camp Sealth. Now, having been with Camp Sealth as Food Service Director going on 6 months, it’s electric to hear her describe the experience and platform it gives her. “I love living here, where I work. I’ve wanted a good job and a path that allows me balance. Working at camp full time is still new for me, even though it is just outside where I grew up. I had never been here [to Vashon] before, surrounded by woods, animals, living on the water,” she shares.
“I think, how many others could benefit from these same opportunities, especially for more people that look like me. How can I break that stigma around being in the outdoors, give them these experiences, serve them good food, and make it a safe space? I want to be able to pour into them the same way I was poured into.”
It’s those questions and the passion behind them that brought Chantel and the Camp Fire staff team together to create Camp Fire’s Equity Action Fund. This initiative is focused on reducing barriers and supporting children of color in exploring the outdoors and accessing Camp Sealth. The fund will intentionally work to give back to the local community, building relationships to get campers and their families out to Camp Sealth who may not normally otherwise find a camp experience or feel like it’s a space for them. Chantel hopes to emulate her first Lunch Lady, (even choosing ‘Lunch Lady’ as her camp name), to be able to build up those that come out to camp or come work in her kitchen.
Help us kick off Camp Fire’s Equity Action Fund and bring more kids to Camp!
Join us for the Equity Action Fund’s first event, a Southern Gumbo Fundraiser, Courtesy of Thyme Well Spent on December 19th as we start this incredible initiative, and try some of Chantel’s most famed food, her Southern Gumbo. If you’re excited by this work but can’t make it to Vashon for the food, you can still support us!