Combating Hunger, Creating Opportunity

DC Central Kitchen is America's leader in reducing hunger with recycled food, training unemployed adults for culinary careers, serving healthy school meals, and rebuilding urban food systems through social enterprise.
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Graduate profile: LaShawn Turner

, June 11th, 2015

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As I walked into the bustling kitchen of Geppetto Catering at 9am on a Friday morning, it was clear the staff had been hard at work for several hours before I arrived. Tartlets were being stuffed with seasoned ground chicken and placed in the oven, completed platters of fruit salad were wrapped and refrigerated for delivery, and the sound of an industrial-style dishwasher buzzed in the background as cooks jostled between the lines of the kitchen galley.

I was there to visit LaShawn Turner, a graduate of DCCK’s Culinary Job Training program who has been happily employed by Geppetto Catering for “eight wonderful years,” as LaShawn herself described it.

LaShawn came to DC Central Kitchen in 2007 after spending several years in various training programs and looking for full-time employment as a single mom. Out of work and trying to care for her then 2 year-old son, LaShawn enrolled in the Culinary Job Training program because she always loved cooking and she heard that the culinary certifications offered through the program, such as the ServSafe food handler certification, would make her a more desirable candidate for future employers.

LaShawn described her experience in the program as “supportive,” but recognized that perhaps the most important part of her training was the self-empowerment classes.

“I was shy,” she said with a smile. “Self-empowerment brought me out of my shell a lot and helped all of us learn how important it was to support each other.”

Thanks to our workforce development team and LaShawn’s own drive to succeed, she secured an interview with Geppetto Catering the day before she was set to graduate from DCCK. She was offered the job on the spot and started work a day later.

Now eight years later, LaShawn swings around the kitchen like she’s a member of the family. And according to Geppetto Catering owner and DCCK supporter Josh Carin, that’s exactly what she is.

“She makes me smile. She makes the people here smile. She has become a true member of the Geppetto family.”-Josh Carin, Owner, Geppetto Catering

LaShawn explains: “This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and as long as I can stand up straight and come to work every morning, I will. I love my job. Like I tell Josh, I’m going to retire from here!”

It’s clear that for LaShawn, her job at Geppetto is exactly where she wants to be. She is able to be home with her now 9 year-old son on the weekends, and she can’t imagine working any place else.

When I asked her what advice she has for our 100th Culinary Job Training class who will graduate in July, LaShawn paused for a moment and with confidence said: “I would tell them to go for it. Don’t let anybody say you can’t do it because you can. I’m living proof of that.”



DCCK to celebrate milestone 100th graduation

, June 5th, 2015

80th Graduation - Hat Toss

DC Central Kitchen will celebrate the graduation of our 100th Culinary Job Training (CJT) class on Friday, July 10 with a ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building.

The renowned culinary program equips jobless, formerly incarcerated, or homeless adults for careers in the food service industry through a life-changing 14-week program. Over the course of the program, students receive in-kitchen training, job-readiness skills, and self-empowerment sessions that provide a holistic approach to furthering their personal and professional growth.

The CJT program began in 1990, as soon as DCCK landed its first kitchen space—at the time, in a row house on Florida Avenue NW. The three-month program was designed to be shorter than a formal cooking school, but more comprehensive than a general job readiness service. Trainees were recruited from homeless shelters and halfway houses, gaining culinary skills as they helped prepare the meals DCCK delivered to those same housing programs each day.

The program got a major boost from the hospitality industry, which soon saw CJT as more than a charitable service—rather, it was a source of human capital. Chefs donated their time as guest lecturers and became internship supervisors. Marriott International began as a DCCK food donor, but soon began investing in the training program. In 2008, the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation ‘sponsored’ the full cost of an entire CJT cohort—putting people back to work in the face of a recession. Since then, Marriott has supported an entire class each year, including DC Central Kitchen’s 100th class.

In its 25 years of operation, the CJT program has produced 1,700 graduates. Since the recession of 2008 alone, CJT has prepared 600 graduates with a 90% job placement rate.

We hope you’ll join DC Central Kitchen as we celebrate the accomplishments of our 100th CJT class in the company of friends, family, and esteemed guests on Friday, July 10. Television and radio host Tavis Smiley, DCCK founder Robert Egger, Chef José Andrés, and local elected officials will join friends and family to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Class 100 and the 1,700 men and women whose lives have been changed by the self-empowerment and self-sufficiency  the Culinary Job Training program imparted on them.

We hope you’ll join us at this celebratory event!

When: Friday, July 10, 2015
Informal video presentation will begin at 1:30 p.m.
Ceremony will start promptly at 2:00 p.m.

Where: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC

Ceremony is taking place in the Amphitheater. Please follow signs for “The Capitol Steps”



Good business is a 365-day-a-year job

, May 17th, 2015

school food

“Good business” is a phrase we use a lot here at DC Central Kitchen. Good business means using every available resource to create positive outcomes, like when we employ chronically underemployed men and women from our Culinary Job Training program to serve healthy, locally sourced meals to 3,200 children at 10 low-income DC schools. That’s not charity—that’s good business for everyone.

But with summer approaching, the majority of DC’s schools will close from June to August, which means that most of our city’s school food staffers will be laid off while children who rely on school meals will have to look elsewhere for basic nutrition.

School closures make summer a time of hunger, even while local farms are producing excess amounts of fruits and vegetables just miles away. But DCCK has a solution. By providing full-time, year-round employment and health benefits to our school food staff, we can enlist them in the fight against summer hunger. Half of these DCCK employees will prepare healthy, kid-friendly meals and snacks for 30 summer camps and youth programs. The other half will work on processing, freezing, and storing summer’s bounty from local farms to ensure our access to quality fruits and vegetables year-round.

This approach will have a powerful impact on our community. All told this summer, we will:

Although we won’t be generating revenue from our school foods program during the summer months, DCCK will maintain employee salaries and benefits, purchase local produce in bulk, and deliver summer meals to low-income children who need them. Providing stable summer employment to at-risk adults, critical nutrition for kids, and vital wholesale revenue to local farmers growing healthy food is more than just the right thing to do. It’s good business, too.

Click here if you’d like to help make an investment in this strategic summer effort to fight child hunger, prevent the waste of healthy farm products, and sustain life-changing employment opportunities for our culinary graduates.

Thank you for supporting DC Central Kitchen. Your contribution is an investment in our work to combat hunger and create opportunity in DC.



DCCK staff work to raise $10,000 in the second annual ’10 for 10′ campaign

, April 16th, 2015

10 for 10

On Sunday, April 26, a group of DCCK employees will run a ten-mile race with the goal of raising $10,000 – the cost of putting one student through our life-changing Culinary Job Training program.

In addition to reaching the $10,000 fundraising mark, the primary goal for the 10 for 10 campaign is for every staff member to make a donation to support their DC Central Kitchen family. Staff who support DC Central Kitchen with a financial donation are making a tremendous statement that says, “I believe in my work.”

Of the 150 employees at DCCK, 60 are graduates who work full-time and earn living wages with quality benefits. Each and every day, we witness the power of food as a tool to change lives and build community. Our work at DC Central Kitchen is more than a job, our employees believe in it.

DCCK Procurement and Sustainability Manager, Amy Bachman says: “I am participating in the 10 for 10 campaign again this year because I believe in the work of DC Central Kitchen. I have seen the successes of our Culinary Job Training program through my colleagues I work with every day. I believe it’s important to support the work of my organization through my personal investment as well as through my training for the race. It’s my way of putting my money where my mouth is when I talk about all the great work the Kitchen does and that I truly see value in the investment.”

Matt Schnarr, expansion and partnerships manager for DCCK’s national sister nonprofit, The Campus Kitchens Project, adds: “It might seem a bit strange to ask employees to give back to the organization where they work, but for me, campaigns like this show the commitment of our staff to the overall mission of the Kitchen. There is something very powerful about coming together as a family to support the heart of the Kitchen – the Culinary Job Training program. For me, it is about more than just raising money. I give because I believe in what we are doing and want to support our work in any way I can.”

So far, our colleagues have raised $6,300, but there’s still time to help! Visit the fundraising page to learn more about how you can contribute!



CJT Class 99 celebrates graduation with a full house

, April 13th, 2015

DC Central Kitchen’s most recent Culinary Job Training class marked the end of 14 weeks of training and the beginning of their future at last Friday’s graduation ceremony.

The Walmart-sponsored class was joined by friends, family, DCCK staff and alumni, and esteemed guests at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Heritage Center to commemorate the achievements of Class 99.

Nina Albert, Director, Public Affairs and Government Relations for Walmart gave the keynote address in which she remarked that it’s not just about hard work, but the courage to go after your dreams that makes someone successful in life.

Class 99 had a lot to celebrate. Current employers include Marriott Key Bridge, Nando’s PERi-PERi, Clyde’s Restaurant, Levy Restaurant, and CulinAerie. Students are earning an average hourly wage of $12.00/hour.

During the course of the program students welcomed esteemed guest chefs Vera Oye’ Yaa-Anna (The Palaver Hut) and Rock Harper (Chef and DCCK supporter) and participated in field trips to L’Academie de Cuisine and Jaleo DC.

Internship partner sites for Class 99 included:
Aramark – American University
Boqueria DC
Clyde’s Chinatown
CulinAerie
Levy Restaurants
Marriott Key Bridge
Nando’s PERi-PERi
Ritz Carlton
Sodexo at Marymount
Sodexo at Trinity
Sodexo at USCCB
Sodexo at Venable
Water and Wall Restaurant

Thank you to the Walmart Foundation, our many guest chefs, and our internship and restaurant partners for supporting Class 99. Without you, DC Central Kitchen would never be able to continue our work creating opportunity in DC. Thank you!

If you missed this graduation, be sure to mark your calendar and join us to celebrate the achievements of Class 100 on July 10!

For more images from this celebratory event, be sure to visit our Flickr page.



DCCK guest post: A visitor from across the pond

, March 31st, 2015

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My name is Vikas, and I’m the CEO of a group of companies based in Manchester, United Kingdom.  I spend about one third of all my time on philanthropic projects. I had read a lot over the years about DC Central Kitchen, and during a recent visit to an international trade summit in Washington, D.C. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to pay them a visit.

A wonderfully warm greeting was my first experience of DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), and within minutes of arriving and I was engrossed in conversation with a smartly dressed and confident woman, Tarina (pictured above), in a DC Central Kitchen uniform telling me about how wonderful this organization was.  It was just half an hour later that this woman would tell me her story, describing how she was an ex-convict, spent part of her life homeless, and never thought she would ever get away from her drug and alcohol addictions.  My host (Andy, the organization’s COO) also told me that when he first met this lady she was introverted, isolated and broken.  Just one year later, here she was – one of the warmest, happiest and most confident people you could wish to meet, a transformation she attributes to DC Central Kitchen.

In 25 years, DCCK has grown from being an idea to becoming an organization with an annual budget of $13 million and more than 150 employees. The numbers are staggering: DC Central Kitchen prepares and distributes close to 1 million meals a year for local nonprofits, including homeless shelters, rehabilitation clinics, and afterschool programs. Aside from the (obvious) nutritional impact, their meal distribution program also saves their nonprofit partners close to $3.7 million in food costs.

Given that close to 100% of their Culinary Job Training program cohort arrived facing severe life challenges – the majority having periods of incarceration, drug or alcohol abuse issues, and chronic unemployment – it’s incredible that in 2014, the program’s graduates had a 93% job placement rate (one graduate is even a cook at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for the White House).

“We want to be a model for businesses,” Andy said to me. “We’re a living wage employer, and we want to show people that you can run a business, change lives, and make a profit in the process…”

Similarly unusual in the sector is the distance they manage to keep between the hard-reality of running a non-profit, and the soul needed to bind together souls.

A tour of the kitchen was the next wonderful part of my journey, meeting dozens of graduates of DCCK’s program whose lives had been transformed with a mix of empowerment classes, structured (paid) work opportunities, and the chance to build a new family within DCCK’s walls. The atmosphere is light, fun, and much like a ‘start-up,’ but behind this exterior is a very serious social enterprise, one that operates with the efficiency of a for-profit entity while supporting DCCK’s training program.

That’s all before we even look at their national sister organization, The Campus Kitchens Project (replicating DCCK’s core activities at college and high schools throughout the US).

By this point, I was hugely inspired by DCCK when I met Jeff Rustin. Jeff has been with the organization for just over four years and runs their daily empowerment program (and much, much, more).  He is exactly the mentor that every young person in the USA should have, and told me stories of many of the people they’ve helped, including one harrowing account of a woman who was beaten to within an inch of her life by her partner, and had put her four young kids to bed in their car for their own safety, on one of the coldest days of the year.  When Jeff reached them, the children were practically frost-bitten and he took them to hospital, along with their mother, and started working with them.  Only a short time later, the family is doing well, has a home of their own, and two of the kids are even in college. They’re so grateful, that Jeff gets a Father’s Day card from them.  This is just one of thousands of stories DCCK sees.

One of the most powerful things DC Central Kitchen has is its authenticity. This is not a charity that just means well, but one that is made up of people that have been through, experienced, and overcome the challenges that their beneficiaries face in their daily lives. Jeff recounted the story of speaking to a group of young men, who had histories of incarceration, and who were struggling to connect to him and his other speaker.

“I still know my number!” he told them (speaking of the unique number each inmate gets when they go to prison). “….I  asked these young guys, who has a number lower than mine? Come on! Stand up! Nobody did…” Having spent many of his formative years in jail (before most of his audience were even born), he has turned his life around in the most profound way possible and now helps thousands of people to do the same.  “People need to have faith, I’m not talking about God, but they need faith in something, and most of all, themselves….”

Poverty is endemic in the developed world.  Whether you go to Europe, the USA or elsewhere – behind the wonderful shiny exterior of business hotels, conferences, and tradeshows is the reality of cities where, as in the case of most American cities, one in four people are excluded from the economy.  Organizations like DC Central Kitchen give the support people need to thrive, and also- frankly- to survive, and that’s good for everyone.

During my time with DCCK, I asked a number of people I met what it was that kept them so close to the organization.  Unanimously, the answer I got from every single person was single, “family.”