Generosity and abundance

Illustration by Mark Stivers

To volunteer or donate to Camp ReCreation, go to Canon is open for dinner Tue-Thu 4-10pm; Fri 4-11pm, and Sat 5:30-11pm. Brunch is served Sat-Sun 10am-2pm.

In late June, I stood ankle-deep in Eagle Lake as a 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy grabbed my wrists. As part of my week of volunteering at Camp ReCreation, I had gone with this camper to the lake because he loves the water and doesn’t get to swim much at home. With our arms linked, I backpedaled quickly, towing him through the water as he yanked himself forward and looked up at me with a full smile that made my life feel momentarily complete.

Throughout our week together, I helped bathe this young man and change his clothes. I helped him navigate the bumpy brick paths that criss-cross the campground. I ensured that he was well-fed and well-rested so we could swim on a windless, sunny afternoon, high in the mountains of Northern California. I don’t have children, but I imagine the appeal of parenthood is adjacent to the feelings I felt that week.

I have gone to Camp ReCreation for seven years. Secluded from civilization, it’s a week-long utopia where people with disabilities get to do whatever they love most, and a bunch of young volunteers help them accomplish that goal.

At camp, the tradeoff for the pure joy of helping others thrive is that it’s an exhausting amount of work fueled only by mass-produced meals made from the fringe offerings of the McDonald’s and Sysco corporations. For a snobby gourmet like me, this is a major sacrifice. So when the president of the camp proposed that some long-time returning volunteers go out to eat at Canon East Sacramento, I heartily agreed.

After a bus ride which included a wheelchair lift that wouldn’t work, vomit sprayed onto a first-year volunteer’s lap and a “no-flush” toilet, we made it back in Sacramento. A couple hours later, our party arrived at Canon, where, in the private dining room, I had the greatest feast of my life.

Chicken drumsticks in an urfa chili sauce. Cucumber salad with rich burrata. Raw yellowtail with harissa pesto. Smoky, tender hamachi collar. Lamb pavé served with mint yogurt and housemade flatbread. Crispy tots covered in mole madre. Fennel salad with peaches so flavorful they were “electric,” as described by our enthusiastic waiter, who orchestrated our meal seamlessly and never made an errant suggestion.

Each bite justified the inclusion of every perfectly prepared ingredient on the plate. After finishing off with some espresso, toffee and strawberry paté, I didn’t just feel full; I felt replenished.

Each year at camp, I lose roughly five pounds, my voice goes hoarse and my hair gets so greasy it looks gelled. But all the effort is worth it because, for that week, I see the direct positive impact of my efforts on others and feel like I’m doing exactly what I should be doing with my life. I hope the staff at Canon feels the same about what they do at their restaurant.

In his prayer, St. Francis said, “For it is in giving that we receive.” But it is also in receiving with gratitude that we give—because it’s a wonderful gift to be thanked for performing the work you love to do.