Updates for Culinary Job Training
Earlier this month, a DC Central Kitchen staff member was speaking to a class of graduate students at one of the universities here in Washington, DC. That’s something we’re asked to do fairly often as a national leader in food recovery, social enterprise, job training, and more recently, combating urban food deserts.
But this time a student asked a question that truly resonated with us: “What would our community look like if DC Central Kitchen had never opened?”
It’s a question we’ve thought about a lot over the past few days as DC Central Kitchen’s 25th year comes to a close. As we ask you to support our work once again, it’s a question we want to try to answer for you:
- 1,300 men and women would be on the streets, in prison, or on welfare—instead of in the workforce, paying taxes, and supporting themselves. Our culinary training program has maintained a 90% job placement rate over the years, replacing dependency with real careers.
- DC homeless shelters, halfway houses, and nonprofits—and their donors—would have spent more than $67 million on meals for their clients while 22 million pounds of food rotted away. Instead, we put that unwanted food to use and strengthened DC’s social safety net by delivering balanced meals at little or no cost to those agencies.
- There would be no national law protecting good Samaritans who donate food to good causes. We were instrumental in passing the 1996 Bill Emerson Act, shielding well-meaning Americans from liability when giving away surplus food.
- $23 million in taxpayer dollars would have been spent on prison costs since the 2008 recession alone, had our ex-offender graduates gone back to prison at rates in line with the national average. With a recidivism rate of just 2%, our graduates instead pumped more than $2 million worth of payroll taxes back into our community.
- Healthy school meals would still be a political talking point, not a daily reality in DC’s inner-city schools. We’ve served more than 3 million scratch-cooked, locally sourced meals to low-income schoolchildren, proving we can do better than frozen and deep-fried dishes for our kids.
- And worst of all, our country would still be trying to fight hunger with handouts. For a quarter-century, we’ve fought against the idea that trillion-dollar problems can be solved with a mix of leftover pennies and ample pity. We know that hunger is a symptom of poverty, and that poverty can only be cured with a decent job.
Your gift does so much more than just provide a meal.Your support shatters stereotypes, saves our community money, creates jobs, and most importantly, changes the way our community fights hunger and breaks the cycle of poverty.
Your investment in us has made our community measurably stronger in the past 25 years. Please make your gift to DC Central Kitchen today.
Thank you for being a partner in our work.
If you didn’t make it to the Capital Food Fight™ last Tuesday, or happen to read the article in The Washington Post last Wednesday, then you probably haven’t heard that DCCK has made our first foray into the supermarket food manufacturing space! That’s right, our Chow-Chow, a sweet, pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables and served cold, is now available on Whole Foods Market olive bars and packaged in ‘to go’ containers at the Tenleytown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and P Street locations.
Like all of our social enterprise activities, DCCK will produce and distribute the Chow-Chow out of our Nutrition Lab kitchen facility located in Northeast DC, and each batch will be prepared by graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.
Chow-Chow can be eaten by itself or as a savory condiment on fish, poultry, crackers, and a variety of other foods. Head over to your local Whole Foods and try it for yourself – 100% percent of proceeds support DCCK!
A recent Washington Post opinion piece calling for a national food policy put foodies, health advocates, policy wonks, and political partisans on notice. In “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives” authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter took the United States to task for failing to set an overarching vision for the most fundamental determinant of our daily health:—“how we produce and consume food.” They urged the US to embrace a more strategic, coherent approach, and stop undermining our own progress through contradictory stances that advance “diametrically opposed goals.” The miniature manifesto is likely to inspire many philanthropists, policymakers, and advocates and serve as a reference point in America’s food policy debates for years to come.
But smarter national policy is just part of the puzzle. A top-down approach can only work if it’s advancing and amplifying what’s working from the bottom-up. At DC Central Kitchen, we embody many of the principles laid out by Bittman and company. Founded as the nation’s first community kitchen, we’ve been a leading advocate for recycling surplus food, paying fair wages, and building more robust local food systems. For years, we’ve translated their grand goals into the gritty grassroots work of liberating and strengthening our community through the power of food. And what we’re doing is working.
Of the nine ‘guarantees’ the authors would like US food policy to ensure, DC Central Kitchen has pioneered real, path-breaking progress toward six:
- All Americans have access to healthful food. DCCK prepares nearly 12,000 healthy meals each day—5,000 for DC’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and direct service nonprofits, and more than 6,000 for low-income DC schoolchildren. Our school meals are scratch-cooked, locally sourced, and meet all the health standards that have sparked so much debate in the past few years. And most importantly, kids love them. DCCK’s unique approach to fighting food deserts even won a national Social Innovation Challenge award from Tavis Smiley and the University of Maryland this year.
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives. We’re proof that national policy pushes can work at the local level. As a USDA Farm to School grantee, we increased purchases of six local crops by more than 200% and saw student consumption of items like sweet potatoes and broccoli nearly double. But it look lots of on-the-ground inventiveness and grassroots community engagement to achieve these gains.
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently. Want to see our kitchens in action? Come visit—or better yet, volunteer. Check out our Volunteer Bill of Rights, which ensures that our volunteers have the ability to understand what they’re contributing to and why. Interested in what we’re serving in schools? You can see our menus for breakfast, lunch, and supper here.
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs. DCCK is proud to be a job creator. We train at-risk women and men in the culinary arts and work to hire as many as we can in living wage positions. Today, 60 of our own graduates—people with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and chronic unemployment—now work for DCCK full-time, powering our pioneering programs. We provide a starting wage of $13.60 per hour with full health benefits and a 50% retirement match, because we believe work should pay in America.
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food. Our Healthy Corners program delivers nutritious snacks to 64 corner stores in low-income neighborhoods, marketing our fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods in stores, on buses, and at community events. We conduct taste tests in the school cafeterias where we serve lunch to refine recipes and get kids excited about healthy eating. And we even operate a mobile garden out of the bed of a pickup truck so we can bring seed-to-table lessons to inner city schools and youth programs.
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced. DCCK reduces shipping costs (and emissions) by buying locally; as the only USDA-recognized Food Hub in the District of Columbia, we’re aggregating and redistributing more than 200,000 pounds of local produce each year, investing in dozens of small and mid-size family farms. We also help local farmers sell more of what they grow, by purchasing aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables that otherwise wouldn’t have a buyer and would be plowed back under as seed. America wastes forty percent of its food supply each year, and this wasteful practice is a primary driver of that disturbing statistic.
We aren’t experts in climate change, animal husbandry, or antibiotics, so our programs don’t match up with all nine of the goals laid out in the Post—and we’re perfectly fine with that. But if that editorial got you thinking about the future of food in America, we hope our programs will get you excited about what’s already really happening in our country.
Our successes are real, and they’re changing lives in our community for the better. As the important conversation about smarter food policy moves forward, let’s make sure the dialogue is equally focused on smarter food practices, and use those practices to shape better policy.
At DC Central Kitchen, we teach our students that every job is a good job. An entry-level gig as a prep cook or dishwasher might not make you rich, but if you keep showing up each day with the right attitude and amount of effort, you can go places. 2013 DCCK culinary graduate Abby Wood took this teaching to heart, and it landed her a very special job—in the kitchen of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, a building that houses various agencies that comprise the Executive Office of the President.
Soft-spoken, with soft features and short stature, Wood didn’t exude confidence in her early days at DCCK. At five years old, Wood was diagnosed with a learning disability, which she says led her to become shy and withdrawn. Time and again, she was told “You’re just not going to make it.”
At the behest of a loving aunt, Wood ventured down to DCCK, looking to turn a personal passion into a professional career. The busy kitchen, with clattering steel and chatty chefs, was intimidating at first, but instead of hearing from those around her that she wasn’t going to make it, her instructors repeatedly urged her to “trust the process.”
In the program’s first seven weeks, Wood was inundated with information, from exacting knife cuts to conversion measures to safe methods of handling food. With the help of her instructors, Wood made lengthy to-do lists. She started using her phone to help manage her time in ways that kept her from being distracted. She also learned how meticulous note-taking could help her learn better. And when DCCK’s hard-nosed self-empowerment classes or rigorous, month-long internship experience pushed her to the limits of her social comfort zone, Woods says her instructors “learned how to read me” and coaxed her out of her shell when she wanted to withdraw.
Upon graduation, Wood landed an enjoyable position at the Library of Congress, where she honed her skills in a diverse workplace. But Wood, so outwardly shy, had a bigger dream that she only whispered to her closest confidants at DCCK.
She had a dream of working in the White House. And through her first job, she developed a network, dutifully watched for openings, and trusted the process of achieving her dreams. The vetting process was long and frustrating, and she could have easily gotten distracted or dejected. But she didn’t.
It’s been nearly six months since Abby landed her job in the kitchen of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and we’re proud to report that she is still there – happy, fulfilled, and working full-time in her dream job.
DC Central Kitchen taught me hyper-focus and a dedication to detail and learning new things, all skills that are beneficial in any environment, especially a challenging workplace like the White House.
“Don’t let other people deter you from your goals,” Wood adds with a bright smile.
It was another packed house at DC Central Kitchen’s Class 97 graduation ceremony on October 10. Friends, family and esteemed guests joined DCCK staff, CJT graduates, and current CJT students at the commemorative event held at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center.
Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie gave the keynote address, during which he spoke about his own story of success and the journey that brought him to public service. Though today the Councilmember is a law school graduate, he faced serious barriers in pursuing higher education. Raised by a working-class family in Northeast DC, Councilmember McDuffie worked as a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service before attending college and becoming the first male in his family ever to graduate from college.
Like many of our students, McDuffie knew he was capable of more, but had to seek the courage to try and maintain the perseverance to meet his own potential.
“Class 97, always remember your struggle, but never jeopardize the investments you’ve made.”
Sixteen out of 20 Class 97 graduates have already secured employment with an average starting wage of $12.07 per hour. Employers include the newly opened Willie’s Brew and Que, owned by former culinary job training instructor Chef Rock Harper, Sodexo food services at Venable and Howard University, Nando’s, CulinAerie, and Burger Works. The remaining graduates will continue to receive employment support from DCCK, including resume preparation, mock interviews, and job placement.
DC Central Kitchen’s graduation is always a high-energy, festive event that marks the end of a rigorous 14-week commitment our students have made not only to their culinary training, but to the self-empowerment and life skills they need to be successful in their lives and careers.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, and for the investments of our friends and champions that help make DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program a reality.
Check out more great photos from Class 97′s graduation ceremony on our Flickr page.
Yesterday, DC Central Kitchen staff, graduates, and friends grew a little bit closer to each other as we shared in the delight of seeing our very own CJT graduate Howard Thomas on ABC’s hit cooking-themed daytime talk show, “The Chew.”
The show dedicated a significant amount of air time to portraying the work of the Kitchen and our graduates. Howard, who is currently the lead production cook at Washington Jesuit Academy for our Healthy School Food program, did such an incredible job representing the Kitchen and sharing his story in front of a live studio audience!
Thank you Carla Hall, Mario Batali, Michael Symon, Clinton Kelly, Daphne Oz and the entire crew of “The Chew” for highlighting our work and our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities.
Check out a short clip of yesterday’s episode here!