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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The best DCCK grad story of the year

, July 29th, 2015

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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.



14 weeks of training and a lifetime of change

, July 24th, 2015

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You may have been one of the 500 DC Central Kitchen supporters who came out to the Ronald Reagan Building on July 10 to witness our 100th class graduate from the Culinary Job Training Program. These men and women were visibly empowered by their experience to make a change in their lives, but what wasn’t demonstrated on that commemorative day was their success in applying their skills – in the kitchen and in life – to secure employment. As of July 24, more than half of Class 100 had secured jobs, with the remaining in the final stages of their job search – completing interviews and accepting offers.

DC Central Kitchen prepares our students for their future and helps create path of stability. Our dual classroom focus on personal empowerment and culinary skills is further supported by a guided job search process and mock interviews conducted by our workforce development team. Last year at DCCK, we saw 96 students graduate with a 93% job placement rate.

Current employers of Class 100 include Occasions Caterers, Le Pain Quotidien, MISFIT Juicery, Café Kindred, Calvary Women’s Services, Nando’s Peri-Peri, and DC Central Kitchen.



DC Central Kitchen marked 100th graduation on July 10

, July 13th, 2015

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On Friday, July 10, DC Central Kitchen celebrated its milestone 100th graduation at a ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building. Sixteen graduates of the life-changing Culinary Job Training Program were recognized for their perseverance overcoming chronic unemployment to begin new culinary careers.

Mayor Muriel Bowser presented a Mayoral Proclamation to the graduates, in which she stated: “I, the Mayor of the District of Columbia, do hereby recognize the achievements of DC Central Kitchen’s 100th graduating culinary class and call upon all the residents of this great city to join me in commending Class 100 and DC Central Kitchen for their efforts to feed the soul of the District of Columbia.”

DC At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) presented a ceremonial resolution on behalf of the Council declaring July 10 “DC Central Kitchen Day” in the District of Columbia.

Other notable speakers included DCCK Board Chair Emeritus and Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup José Andrés, television and radio host Tavis Smiley, DCCK Chief Executive Officer Michael F. Curtin, Jr., DCCK Founder Robert Egger, and Vice President, Food & Beverage Culinary and Global Corporate Chef of Marriott International, Brad Nelson.

In its 25 years of operation, the Culinary Job Training Program has produced 1,500 graduates. In 2014, DCCK produced 96 graduates with a 93% job placement rate.

DCCK’s 100th Class was sponsored by the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation, with unique educational experiences provided by Marriott International.

The landmark event earned DCCK media recognition from DCist, as well as NBC4, WUSA9, and Good Morning Washington.

Be sure to visit DCCK’s Flickr page to check out some great photos from Class 100′s journey!



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.”



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.”