Updates for Achievements
Last weekend, DC Central Kitchen’s fearless leader, Mike Curtin, received a Bicentennial Medal from Williams College – his Alma mater.
Established in 1993 in honor of the college’s 200th anniversary, Bicentennial Medals honor members of the Williams community for distinguished achievement in any field of endeavor. Curtin received his medal alongside four other distinguished alumni during Fall Convocation, for which he was also the keynote speaker.
His remarks moved families, alumni, and current seniors alike as he spoke about his journey and the winding path that brought him to DC Central Kitchen. Curtin stated during his remarks: “Professors Frost and Eusden encouraged me to do something that at the time was a little unusual…they encouraged me to find MY truth, to catch MY salamander; and they – and everything I experienced in and out of the classroom at Williams gave me the confidence to believe I could do that.”
Curtin came to DC Central Kitchen in 2004, drawing on his experiences as an entrepreneur in the restaurant business to expand the Kitchen’s social enterprise program from less than $500,000 in 2005 to over $7 million in 2014. Under his leadership, DCCK’s social enterprise portfolio expanded from a small catering outfit to include full-service catering and contract meals (Fresh Start Catering), locally-sourced, scratched-cooked school meals, and Healthy Corners, our wholesale program that delivers fresh produce and healthy snacks to corner stores in Washington, DC’s food deserts.
“The Kitchen brings people together around a common table, and contextualizes and elevates a dialogue that gives a voice to the voiceless – including those that have been marginalized – and offers hope where there is mostly despair and resignation.”
Today, the Kitchen has received numerous accolades under Mike’s guidance, including: The Mayor’s Environmental Excellence Award, the Washington Business Journal’s Green Business Award for Innovation, The DC Chamber of Commerce 2012 and Community Impact Award; and DCCK’s social enterprise was named one of the top 10 social enterprise business in the world by the founder of the Social Enterprise World Forum. In 2015 he received the Community Impact Award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Everyone at DC Central Kitchen joins the Williams community in congratulating Mike on this well-deserved honor! Congratulations, Mike!
Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted saying: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” That concept is embodied by one of our staff members and Culinary Job Training (CJT) graduates, Crystal Marshall.
Crystal is living proof that with enough drive and passion, a person can truly turn their life around. After returning home from prison with a felony on her record, Crystal knew she would have to build her life up from scratch. At age 30, she had no prior work experience and nothing to her name except a very supportive family, and more than a little ambition.
After returning home from prison, Crystal began volunteering at a local nonprofit called Friendship Place in order to gain community service hours as terms of her release. It was here that she learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Crystal wanted to live a life of purpose; she wanted to find a way to do something she enjoyed, while also earning a living wage, and she knew this would be a difficult task with a felony on her record. She had never cooked before, but wanted to find a way to gain marketable skills, allowing her to find more than just a job, but a career. So, she set out to pursue her goals – a woman on a mission.
“I didn’t want to just learn how to do something and get a job; I wanted to acquire a skill that I could use to get other jobs. So, I focused on learning, as opposed to just being there. I showed up every morning on time, excited about being there.”
Upon graduating from CJT in January 2013, Crystal began working at Geppetto Catering in Riverdale, Maryland. Six months later, Crystal was hired by DCCK to work in our School Food program for which we serve up 4,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to low-income D.C. schoolchildren every day. Only one year after joining the School Food team, Crystal found herself promoted to a supervisor position. She now works in DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab in Northeast, DC, overseeing her team of 12 staff as they all work together to meet each day’s quota of healthy meals for 10 schools in the District.
Not missing a beat since choosing to change her life’s path, Crystal not only has a job she loves, but has nearly completed a degree in computer science as well. Crystal climbed onto a moving train that’s not stopping anytime soon. She feels she has recreated herself. As this incredible young woman continues to beat the odds, it seems only the sky is the limit for her.
Each year at the end of summer, DCCK takes a look back at our progress toward our goals to combat hunger and create opportunity in DC. We’re committed to refining how we approach our work to provide healthy food for our low-income neighbors, and offer the skills and training chronically unemployed adults need to get –and keep – a job.
Our work would not be possible without committed investors and supporters like you. We hope you are proud to see what your financial investment in DC Central Kitchen has made possible in the first half of the year. Thank you for supporting our mission and believing in the power of food to change lives.
Every day, we’re preparing more than 11,000 meals for DC schoolchildren and nearby partner nonprofits. Through our Food Recovery and Meal Distribution programs we’re transforming 3,000 pounds of leftover, unwanted food into 5,000 daily meals for our neighbors in need. Our School Food program serves up another 6,000 healthy, locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals each day for low-income children in 10 DC schools.
From January to June 2015, we have:
- Prepared 914,738 meals for 80 DC social service agencies with 337,721 pounds of recovered food that would have otherwise been wasted.
- Served 516,247 healthy, scratch-cooked meals in 10 low-income DC schools with 146,085 pounds of produce purchased from local family owned farms.
And, like all DC Central Kitchen programs, our school food initiative and meal distribution program offer meaningful employment for graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.
At DC Central Kitchen we know we’ll never end hunger with food alone. That’s why our Culinary Job Training program addresses the root cause of hunger and unemployment: poverty. We operate eight job training classes a year, providing the knife and life skills our students need to launch lasting careers.
From January to June 2015, we have:
- Graduated 48 students from our Culinary Job Training program with an average wage of $11.64 at graduation. The average wage of these students has increased to $12.22 since June 30.
- Maintained full-time, meaningful employment for 60 of our own graduates right here at DC Central Kitchen, at a living wage with full medical benefits and a retirement plan.
Thanks to your support, we’re on track to provide more than 2.5 million meals to our most vulnerable neighbors and train 96 men and women for jobs in 2015.
We are proud to share our achievements from the first half of the year with you, and hope you will invest in DC Central Kitchen’s work again soon.
Summer means logistical modifications at DC Central Kitchen when we adjust staffing for the changing school schedule and accommodate the huge volume of produce we source from local farms.
When the 10 schools to which we provide meal service let out for the summer, many staff members of our school food team jump into production mode to process the seasonal fruits and vegetables we purchase.
Last year, we purchased more than 200,000 pounds of produce from local farmers – reinforcing our support of local businesses while sourcing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables we need for our meals. Where most grocery stores will turn away blemished produce, DCCK will purchase these items of the wrong size, shape, or color at a reduced cost and use them in our meals. This win-win scenario means farmers earn a profit without wasting their crops, and we’re able to save money while investing in local businesses.
Rather than source a number of different items that make menu planning more challenging for our school food staff, this summer our procurement team sourced items that stand up well to freezing, thawing, and cooling – like cabbage, collard greens, corn, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. This produce is washed, cut, sealed in vacuum sealed bags, and then frozen until we need it again when school resumes in the fall.
Where our daily meals for local nonprofits and other social service agencies rely heavily on donated items, our school food meals are planned well in advance with purchased items. This careful thought of what produce we source not only supports our year-long school menu planning, but processing more labor intensive produce in advance also means that our school food team will spend less time preparing these items during the school year as they’ve already been processed and frozen.
We are capturing produce at the height of its seasonality, which means we are able to capitalize on the nutrient content of that produce when it’s at its best. When something is picked ripe and immediately processed, you lock in that delicious flavor that seasonal produce has to offer. Thus, our processing allows for produce that not only tastes better, but is better for you.
Already this summer we’ve bulk processed more than 13,000 pounds of produce. At DC Central Kitchen, we’re not only committed to providing healthy and locally-sourced food for children in DC, but we’re equally as committed to being reliable business partners. Through our purchasing, we’ve invested more than $7,200 with local farmers including the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction and Public House Produce, a local family farm located in Luray, Virginia.
Restructuring our process to accommodate summer’s bounty is complex, but it’s a win-win for our staff, students, local farmers, and inventory!
Billy Johnson is proof of what’s possible at any age. At 58, he’s already experienced a lifetime of tragedy, but that didn’t stop him from seeking something better at DC Central Kitchen.
Growing up, Billy’s mother was a live-in housekeeper who relied on the older siblings to look after Billy and his younger brother and sisters. He played football at Cardozo High School, but even that couldn’t keep him from the temptation of crime. Like too many other young men who struggled to envision a future of success without crime, Billy took to the streets.
He would spend the next 26 years in and out of the prison system on various charges. But once Billy was out of prison for good, things around him just kept falling apart. He lost his mother to a heart attack, an older brother to obesity and poor health, and a sister to breast cancer.
After all of this personal turmoil and loss, Billy enrolled in DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program last winter, ready to make a career for himself and finally start anew. A student with one of our offsite culinary classes at Central Union Mission, Billy was doing well until he lost his last living sibling in February. Without the tools to deal with such a significant loss, Billy allowed his past to take over, relapsed, and left the program.
But Billy didn’t give up. When enrollment opened for our 100th Culinary Job Training class, Billy returned to the Kitchen and asked for another chance to complete the program. As a member of Class 100, Billy was determined to succeed. He worked hard, showed up on time, and was committed to turning his life around.
On July 10, Billy celebrated with his classmates at their graduation ceremony. He had returned to the Kitchen, recommitted himself to working hard, and it paid off. Two weeks later, he joined DC Central Kitchen full-time, making $14.05 an hour as a cook preparing meals for our partner homeless shelters, afterschool programs, and halfway houses.
If you ask Billy about his new job, he’ll tell you that he loves it; that he’s being paid for something he’d just as soon do for free. With his past behind him, Billy is striving to live each day to its fullest, never take anything for granted, and give back.
When you come into a situation when you enjoy doing what you’re doing, the money has nothing to do with it. You always have to keep your past in the front of your mind; you have to have a ‘why’ when you’re going through life, because you can make it.
That’s the beauty of a job – it’s not just about self-sufficiency; it’s about having meaning in your life. After years of adversity and loss, Billy finally has that chance.
We’ve been sharing a lot recently about our 100th graduation and DCCK’s role as job creators in our community. Graduations are inspiring for lots of reasons, not just because of what the day represents for the men and women who complete the program. In the days that followed our 100th graduation, one notably inspiring story made its way around the organization.
Earl was a student of Class 100 who came to DCCK from a halfway house after spending 13 years in prison. You can’t miss him in a room — over 6 feet tall with a big build and a long beard, Earl’s smile is genuine and disarming. After incarceration, he was committed to making a career as a cook, and he approached our Culinary Job Training Program with diligence and enthusiasm. You could find Earl at any event that called for Class 100 student volunteers. In June, he even took to the outdoor grills at the Lamb Jam, a tasting event and competition that brings together talented chefs to compete for the Best Lamb Dish, to help one of the chefs keep up with demand at his tasting booth.
To commemorate our 100th graduation, DCCK was fortunate enough to receive a matching pledge of $10,000 from past and current board members, with a goal of raising another $10,000 in donations both at the ceremony and online in the days that followed.
That afternoon, Earl’s family was seated comfortably in the front row. His mother, easily recognizable given her similarly identifiable smile, was emotional before the ceremony got underway. After the announcement of our board match at the ceremony, several guests handed reply envelopes with their gifts to members of DCCK’s Development team.
A few hours later, our donor relations manager came across one particular envelope that contained a $100 bill and a short, handwritten note. “I’ve been carrying around this lucky $100 for 13 years,” the note said. “I don’t need it anymore.”
The note and generous gift was from Earl’s mother. She held on to that bill the entire time Earl was incarcerated, and on the day of his graduation from DC Central Kitchen, Earl’s mother passed on that luck to the men and women who will come to DCCK after him.
Of all of the gifts we received that day, this is the one that matters most. Earl is now employed full-time, making a living wage of $14.05/hour with full benefits as a cook at DC Central Kitchen. While we’ll never know how much luck that $100 provided, Earl’s hard work and dedication made for plenty of luck on its own. Earl has a job, a family he can spend time with, and a mother whose love for her son is truly unwavering. She retired last week, at a party attended by Earl’s culinary instructors; ending her career the same week Earl launched his.
Thank you to everyone who made a gift in honor of our 100th class. It is a milestone that represents years of hard work and changed lives for over 1,000 men and women who have come through DCCK since 1990.
To Earl’s mother – thank you for believing in your son and for supporting DC Central Kitchen through this heartfelt and generous gift.