MAILBAG: Highway Robbery in Camps is the New Normal. It Shouldn’t Be.

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Last year, as my son prepared to board the coach bus taking him to summer camp, I kissed him goodbye and asked if there was anything I could help him with. He looked at me and shyly asked for a significant amount of money. I asked why it was necessary and he explained his request in one word: canteen.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Here we go again with another parent complaining about camp…’ No, this is a serious issue that needs to be discussed.

As we know, summer camps are by and large amazing places filled with kedusha, chiyus, warmth and growth.

There is a tremendous amount of work that goes into making a camp function properly, and kol hakavod to every staff member, director, and head counselor who dedicate their lives for the chinuch of our children.

However, I do believe that the canteen situation needs to be improved.

When my son made his monetary request, he explained that it isn’t “cool” to eat the regular food camp provides, and that he needs to keep up with the standard of his friends and buy food at the canteen daily.

There are several problems with this:

  1. Peer pressure is the last thing we need our kids going through during the summer. They are in camp to let loose a little and grow into themselves in a setting outside of school. Being concerned with this peer pressure should be avoided at all cost.
  2. This peer pressure can result in further issues down the line. If children learn to cave to peer pressure, it can result in much worse problems, like smoking, addictions, and other adverse behaviors.
  3. I struggle as it is to pay for camp tuition which is – as any parent knows – quite expensive. On top of that, I need to start paying an extra cost for food from the ridiculously expensive canteen?

I have seen firsthand the prices these young bochurim who run canteens charge.

There is no need to charge $1 for a pack of Mike and Ike’s that cost $.25 in a local grocery. The bochurim think it’s some sort of money-making business to rip money out of the kids and of course, their parents.

I’m not sure who is the one pocketing all the money from this scheme. If it is the camps, there is no reason why they need to charge these ridiculous prices. The camp fees are high enough.

If it’s the young bochurim who are making the money, why can’t the camp board tell them to set lower prices? If a bochur wants to make a little extra money during the summer, no problem, find yourself a job working for a local supermarket. It isn’t fair for them to be making their money on a parent’s dime.

This needs to stop. Immediately.

I am not trying to point fingers at camp directors for high tuition rates. I’m just saying that the prices in canteens must be regulated and adjusted.

If it was my choice, I would live up to what I’m saying and write my name, but because I wrote some personal information about my financial state, I’d rather remain anonymous.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.

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35 COMMENTS

  1. “Peer pressure is the last thing we need our kids going through during the summer. They are in camp to let loose a little and grow into themselves in a setting outside of school. Being concerned with this peer pressure should be avoided at all cost.
    This peer pressure can result in further issues down the line. If children learn to cave to peer pressure, it can result in much worse problems, like smoking, addictions, and other adverse behaviors.”

    So why don’t you teach your child not to give in to peer pressure? What does this have to do with canteen prices?

  2. No doubt it needs to stop, but not through any regulation, rather the son must be explained that he’s sacrificing long-term ‘coolness’ for the short term one. The ultimate respect is being cool with living honestly, productively and considerately.

  3. It’s probably worth checking with your son’s camp about who runs the canteen and who is making those profits. Presumably, the profits go to pay the overhead including room and board for whomever is running that canteen, but I don’t know.

  4. You are complaining about the pennies while ignoring the dollars.

    Canteen prices might overcharge. That depends on unfair price comparison with local stores that move huge volume. This is same reason cholov yisroel ice-cream is sold for 3 or 4 times the comparable cholov stam ice-cream. The consumer market is so much smaller, hence the higher price.

    But what about camp tuitions – are they fair? Why do many camps charge more per month than most yeshivas?

    After all, the majority of camp staff aren’t being paid salaries comparable to yeshiva staff. The food and bunk housing are of lesser quality and expense than yeshiva dorms.

    Yet, we are being gouged by camp fees – maybe because the service isn’t a necessity like yeshiva, but is it a fair price?

    That’s where you pay the big bucks! Not the pennies in canteen markups.

  5. My 21-year-old son is the Canteen manager at a Jewish camp in the Catskills. He works VERY hard to offer interesting and popular items to the campers. He must pay hundreds of dollars to rent a golf cart to travel around the camp so he can fill up the soda machines. He pays rent to the camp which covers his space and utilities. He has to buy or rent equipment to prepare certain foods that the campers want. By the first day of camp he has already laid out more than $10,000 of his own money. By the last day of camp he’ll come away with a nice profit that will equate to a salary of just a few dollars per hour – though he will have had a very enjoyable summer in a kosher environment.

    If you don’t want your children to go crazy at the Canteen, start by training them at home. Do the parents prepare their own food and eat at home? Or do they go out/order in regularly? If the latter, how can the parents expect the kids to act differently in camp. If you already do that, then have an honest talk with your children and explain the situation. I am sure the kids will understand.

  6. Around 1970 I worked in the Canteen in the then Camp Torah Vodaas. The manager was very tough and made me work non stop, actually peeling skinless franks just to keep me busy. After around 2 weeks I realized it was abuse and quit and left camp. The back story is that soon after the canteen “owner” showed up and all the money was missing. It seems the “manager” was keeping me occupied so as not to realize he was stealing. Then again, maybe he was stealing from someone who you might call a ganav.

  7. You cannot control the frequency of situations where peer pressure pops up, or how bad the instigated behavior is. What you can do is have a discussion with your child about peer pressure and how they don’t need to mindlessly follow what everyone else is doing to prove they are “cool.” The coolest people are the ones who make the trend, not follow it.

  8. The kid who expects the money for that reason should be told, either eat the camp food or stay home. No reason to give in to the narishkeit. If parents stopped giving canteen money and the canteen sold little, they would lower their prices. It is the parents’ fault.

  9. these types of legitimate issues boil down to “ONE THING” – your kriez or circle or shevet or type of yid . klal yisroel has many many shades almost like a paint store & depending on the shade you associate with thats what your children ( & wife ) expects & thinks is normal. as an example the canteen in romimu is very dif. than the canteen in belz . and your daughters suitcase in malka is dif. than pupa. so when one chooses a certain colony there is a long string that comes with it that the colony across the street doesnt dream of .. be it goyim male tennis instructors ..to non stop nannys & sushi trucks
    you have a good point & in the end we all agree on 95% of yiddishkeit kulam ahuvim / did your kid ask you for an $80 hockey stick because he cant use camps myler sticks…

  10. Camps could make takanas on this issue. For example, limited nosh, only erev Shabbos, only basics.

    We don’t have to give everything to our children that they ask for.

  11. Yep, dropped my daughters luggage off at camp. Was gonna buy a Coke from the machine. $2
    I am sorry, I pay more than enough money for camp already. I think charging $2 for a can of soda is disgusting. Camp truly is a necessity and not a luxury. But it is very expensive. Don’t make it worse!

  12. Lets talk about rent in Yerushalayim for Kollel yungenleit. Shut up about your extra canteen money for your fat spoiled kids who go to camp.

  13. “Shut up about your extra canteen money for your fat spoiled kids who go to camp…”

    Shmuli: Many readers care even less about fat fake shteigers who make believe they are learning to avoid either getting a job or joining the defense forces.

  14. YES! This must to stop. Immediately.
    in fact this not too much shieach for most of the Chasidish Camps, because their canteens are very sophisticated with electronic cards, all with an achrayois, but the etzem fact that kids/Bucherim or girls are spending $$ at a so-called canteen; that is unacceptable, period! I was involved in camps as an asken lshem mitzvah, the camps are receiving a “Tremendous” amount of $$ for each camper for food! all camps can and should provide some nosh/treats for free! not everything that is being sold in a canteen (by that small chutzpah store owner) should be let to sell, that being said; whatever is permitted to be ‘sold’ that should actually be ‘given’, yes, in simple language ‘given’! not sold! that being said, 1 major difference between the yeshivish/lutvish camps, which they sell all different kind of so called nosh, with and without an appropriate hechsher, this needs a major tikkun, not everything that there is in go’isheh veldt must sell in the yiddishe veldt, besides the point for Tinokos Shel Beis Rabon, all the above should be brought to the attention of camps Manahel by all concerned parents,
    velashem hayeshua, wishing klall yisroel a gezuntder zimmer,

  15. Kids should be taught that they get a certain budget for canteen and that’s all you gonna get.
    I have 5 kids going to camp and they all get $15.00 allowance per week and the rest they eat camp food.
    Training starts when they are young. You may spoil them all year long but camp is a great place where kids learn to live without Mommy 24-7. They do their laundry,make their beds, and do their learning and activities.
    A budget is part of upbringing our children. They will only learn if you teach them, not by spoiling them and giving in . health summer to all kids,and klal yisroel

  16. This is the first time I heard of this issue.

    You need to change crowds and send your children to camps that aren’t from fein shmecker families.

  17. YWN – Nice new Mailbag Banner! Finally something nice.

    shmuli98 – So why don’t you write a letter too about rent for kollel yungerleit?

  18. shmuli98: Are you a kollel yungerman?
    “Shut up about your extra canteen money for your fat spoiled kids who go to camp” you say?
    With a mouth and an attitude like that, might I ask why you’re in kollel and what kind of Torah you’re learning there?
    Perhaps instead a father or father-in-law who resents having to pay rent for his entitled son/son-in-law?

    WHich one are you?

  19. I’d wager that the bochurim running the canteens are earning less than minimum wage after subtracting the costs of operation from the revenue. You can’t compare supermarket prices to canteen prices.

  20. Wow! Thanks for enlightening us in this very real issue. While the rest of the world struggles with inflation, unaffordable housing, gas prices, etc. we are really tackling the important issues of our day. The canteen peer pressure really can lead to these terrible addiction further down the line. I’d say we just don’t send our kids to camp at all just to be on the safe side.

  21. Camps should control and limit canteens
    Camp is expensive enough. They should feed the kids better.
    Everyone is making money and many families can’t afford to send their kids to camp

  22. I totally agree with letter above.
    The canteen in many camps that I know if is generally given /sold to bochor/im to run. Those in charge of the canteen have free reign to sell what they want for whatever price they want. Usual snacks & drink, as well as Hot dogs, fries & burgers. Camps should provide decent enough meals for all, but even if they do, there will always be some who dont want to eat it (preferences or peer pressure). They turn a blind eye to the canteen but there needs to be some oversight & rules.

  23. @ Shmuli98
    Two issues.
    1, You have an issue with rent, start your own letter. Better yet, if you are an adult, get a part time job rather than criticize someone’s kids which might really not be fat.
    2, Real dehydration can be serious. In any event, if the body says it is thirsty, drink even if it costs money.

  24. Why do kids need canteen everyday? And why do they need hot dogs, hamburgers and other cooked foods. They should eat what camp provides and maybe have canteen twice a week. Do they all eat that much nosh at home? Most parents send their kids off to camp with a stash of nosh anyway, that should be good enough.

  25. @Rebbitzen Goldenpickanicerscreenname
    “This is same reason cholov yisroel ice-cream is sold for 3 or 4 times the comparable cholov stam ice-cream. The consumer market is so much smaller, hence the higher price.”
    Without disagreeing with your general point, I would point out that the cholov yisroel dairy companies are not that blameless. Mehadrin Dairy, who own J&J, Gevina, and Givat, move more volume than ShopRite private label. (They are on shelves in more stores than ShopRite, and they have a near monopoly of any store they are in, whereas ShopRite does not.) Nonetheless, they are still charging 3-4 times more. Even after factoring in higher cost of cholov yisroel milk, it stil doesn’t make sense.

  26. I am surprised that everyone suggests some sort of regulations. How about allowing several canteens to compete? This is the American way and a Jewish one too .. also, giving an opportunity to learn about halochos of fair competition, wages, fair advertisement…

    As to peer pressure – if your child succumbs to that, this is a siman that he is conditioned that way through the year, you just may not have seen him. So, it is either a good teachable moment to reject it, or simply take him out of the peer environment and spend quality time with your kids instead of shipping them to camps.

  27. Hello to all, a blessed and mazelldig Chodesh,
    This is a profoundly grave issue,
    What happens with these im-shildiga kids which their parents are Chas vshulem not able to give their beloved sweet child the same amount of $$ as his next-door neighbor? (Yeah, the one who comes on visiting day with his Lincoln SUV or another hokku’s poke’s vehicle, (horse and buggy; should say a PPP guy. yes, you know what i mean)
    Canteen should be run under the ‘ownership’ of the hanhala rochni, it should not be a ‘for profit business’, it should be a ‘non-for-profit organization’…
    let the canteen be open; no problem, but the hanhala rochni should be in control and to be ‘menadev’ canteen cards to all kids ‘equally’, the hanhala should have a program in place like an SBA Loan… to borrow the kids/Bucherim a certain amount of $$ on the canteen card, according of the Talmud’s behavior, now; if the Talmud is having an alieh in midos or in toirah the hanhala will add $$ to his card, (without him knowing, as a surprise) and if Chas vshulem his behavior is not as good, it should automatically be decreased from his card, now that being said; No kinah will be on the good boy, and no Sinha will be on the bad boy, those individuals will know exactly what amount they have gotten on their cards left, and it will make them aware that the hanhala is on top of their behavior,
    written by a parent who is dropping tears on the dashboard,
    Make sense?

  28. Their in camp, spoil them if you can!! Let them go crazy and use the canteen.
    If you can’t, then your kid will know you can’t but unfortunately it comes with the territory. It’s no different in Yeshiva with the soda/ candy machines. But try taking to someone, you would get a better response from roadkill