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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Angel Donor Wanted: What We’d Do with a Million Dollars

, July 7th, 2014

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So much of what we do at DC Central Kitchen is powered by lots of “small” contributions, whether they’re annual family donations, monthly recurring gifts, orders of our Fresh Start Catering boxed lunches, or purchases of our affordable, fresh produce in DC corner stores. These investments are our lifeblood—and very “big” in our book.

But today, we wanted to let everyone know that we’re looking for an angel donor.

We went to the DCCK whiteboard of innovative ideas and put together the best of what we’ve been putting off for lack of funds. These are projects we could start in a matter of weeks, not months or years. An investment of $1 million would allow us to accomplish the meaningful goals below, and sustain our long-term impact:

So, are you an angel donor? Do you know one? Help us spread the word about this powerful, immediate opportunity to invest in a proven social enterprise that is changing lives and empowering communities on an industrial scale.

Let’s find this angel donor, together!

For more information, email Alex Moore at amoore@dccentralkitchen.org.



Evaluating Our Impact

, February 27th, 2013

evaluating our impact

This post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign. You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

On any given day at DC Central Kitchen, you can meet men and women who have changed their lives through our Culinary Job Training program. Ask them where they were before coming to DCCK and where they are now. You’ll hear powerful stories, like that of Jessica, our Human Resources Assistant, that will deepen your understanding of poverty, hunger, and unemployment in our community.

When our students graduate and get jobs, they are breaking the cycle of poverty. They’re no longer costing taxpayers millions in prison costs and social services and they are paying taxes. They’re supporting their families, paying rent, and becoming valuable consumers. Their children are learning that they are not destined for prison, addiction, and homelessness, but can have a good job and promising future like mom or dad. It’s one thing for us to say that hiring ex-offenders is a great way for cities to save money in a down economy. It’s another thing to go out and prove it, in the unforgiving language of dollars and cents.

We have always understood our impact intuitively, but now we want to measure this impact systematically. We have lots of other questions we want to answer. Are our programs getting more effective and efficient? What programmatic changes can make it possible to have a bigger impact on our community? We’re taking on questions like this with a strategic, evidence-based approach, making sustained efforts across all of our programs to track our larger impact through data, apply that data in formulating new solutions, and share our impact in powerful, meaningful ways.

The lives of our culinary graduates begin with heart-wrenching situations, but offer inspiring endings. With narratives like these, why are we bothering with all this data, especially if it may produce some unexpected, maybe even unwelcome findings?

DC Central Kitchen understands that evaluating our impact will give us the data-driven tools to improve. Transparency is in our organizational DNA and we are committed to improving accountability and efficiency throughout our operation. For example, we can parse out trends in graduation and job placement rates, and then reallocate resources and adjust our approach to better meet the needs of our diverse students. We can then analyze what works for all students, and what is particularly successful for women, for men, and for students with histories of incarceration, addiction, or mental illness.

People who attend our Culinary Job Training program’s graduations see firsthand how DC Central Kitchen changes lives and we hope that thorough, thoughtfully collected data about our overall impact can be equally powerful. Every DCCK program now uses state-of-the-art performance management software to track data and performance.

We can tell donors how many pounds of local food we are purchasing, the job placement rates of our culinary job training graduates, and the participation rates for our school meals program. But we can also use this system to set performance goals and evaluate indicators of long and short term success. By generating real-time reports, we can not only measure progress over time, but quickly address any drops in performance.

We couldn’t measure these impacts without the help of some outstanding community partners. For example, we are working with a team of MBA candidates from George Washington University to develop a return on investment formula that will evaluate the economic impact across all of our programs. And thanks to the support of Kaiser Permanente, DCCK staff members are enrolled in an intensive six-month institute to learn how to capture and evaluate the impact of food-related nonprofit programs upon public health.

In the success section of our website, under DCCK by the Numbers and Economic Impact you can see some of the significant measures we have captured thus far. We look forward to continuing those efforts in order to improve our programs and expand our reach, ultimately making it possible for DC Central Kitchen to empower more people like Jessica to change their lives. And those are stories we can’t wait to tell.



Shattering Stereotypes

, February 22nd, 2013

shatteringstereotypesThis post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign. You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

Each day at DC Central Kitchen, we prepare thousands of meals for hungry and homeless members of our community. This tremendous effort requires the support of dozens of daily volunteers and the hard work of jobless, at-risk men and women enrolling in our Culinary Job Training program.

When volunteers are chopping away in our bustling kitchen, they’re working side-by-side with our current culinary students and paid staffers who are graduates of our program — many of whom came to us with long histories of incarceration, drug addiction, and homelessness.

Stereotypes about “the hungry” and “the needy” are rarely questioned, even by people who want to help them. Perceptions of men and women who have been incarcerated or addicted to drugs are even less informed. These stereotypes are most dangerous when we’re working to find jobs for our culinary trainees. While our students are focused on their futures, their pasts can be a major barrier.

Destroying these old and dangerous stereotypes is crucial. What about the idea that a woman can still be homeless while working a full-time job that pays substandard wages? What about the men who have committed crimes that have transformed themselves to serve the community? We’re out to challenge the idea that people can’t help themselves out of the cycle of dependency. We’re out to prove that people can liberate themselves from the soup line and find well-paying work that makes a difference. We’re out to demonstrate that with the right opportunities and a lot of hard work, powerful transformations can take place.

Despite these challenges, we’ve revitalized a lot of stale thinking. We’re shattering those stereotypes every day by bringing the community to our kitchen and showing them our unique model of empowerment. We call this experience the “Calculated Epiphany,” where folks come to the Kitchen with certain expectations, and leave with a totally different point of view about the people we serve.

We’re thinking long-term about challenging those stereotypes. The 5,000 meals we produce each day for local nonprofits would not be possible without the 12,000 volunteers that come through the Kitchen each year. Our volunteers mean much more to us than free labor. We want our volunteers to come away feeling inspired by what they see.

This experience is unlike anything you’ll get at a soup kitchen, where there is a barrier between the volunteers and those being served. We purposefully break down those physical and personal barriers to challenge stereotypes. Our volunteers come to us from all over the world and work alongside our culinary students and graduate staffers. Sometimes, our students share their stories. Other times, they just talk about sports. Whatever the subject, the act of interacting promotes mutual understanding, affecting the hearts and minds of all involved.

Ultimately, our volunteers see that, if given the right opportunity, people can make extraordinary changes in their lives. We’re taking men and women who were previously dependent on the system and giving them the tools to make their lives better.

This is why we’ve built a solid program of engaging the local hospitality industry. Every class, we bring chefs from D.C.’s best culinary establishments to the Kitchen to perform cooking demonstrations, participate in events, and serve as mentors to our students. We’re building productive relationships with local businesses that recognize the quality of our program and how hard our students have had to work to get through it. We’re showing chefs and business leaders that people can turn their lives around. Ultimately, this helps our graduates break through barriers and find stable employment.

As a community organization, we’re committed to bringing people to us to learn about our work, to shatter the stereotypes that stand in our way. Politicians talk about fighting ‘wars’ on poverty, hunger, and drug addiction. What makes us different? We’re fighting to win. We’re working to change perceptions about what is possible and we’re showing that our model of empowerment works.



The Power of Partnerships

, February 20th, 2013

Chef Dimitri Moshouitis from Cava Mezze gives a cooking lesson to Class 91 on Heritage Day

Chef Dimitri Moshouitis from Cava Mezze gives a cooking lesson to Class 91 on Heritage Day

This post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign.

 You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

Here at DC Central Kitchen, we train and find employment for men and women who come to us financially broke and emotionally broken. Training at-risk adults for culinary careers isn’t easy work, and we’re not perfect. In fact, we rely on dozens of partner agencies across the District of Columbia to support the progress of each individual client. And in a time when most nonprofits are desperately fighting one another for limited funding, we’re pioneering new forms of powerful partnerships.

Our collaborations start with the transitional homes, shelters, and rehabilitation programs that house people who are hungry for a second chance. Many have histories of drug use or criminal behaviors. Some are victims of domestic abuse or have had serious health issues that drove them to financial ruin. And others have simply fallen out of the workforce and never found a way back in. Whatever their histories, our partner agencies provide what they need in the present, whether it’s counseling, a warm place to stay, childcare, or substance abuse recovery. When a client has begun to get her bearings, it’s time to think about her future. That’s when public and nonprofit groups from across Washington, DC send prospective students to our kitchen, here in the basement of America’s largest homeless shelter. We have a reputation for taking on tough cases, and our partners, strapped for time and resources, are glad to know their clients are in good hands while they turn their attention to the next round of neighbors in need.

Some of our strongest partners are in the corrections community. The idea of an out-of-work ex-offender may not evoke much sympathy for some, but at DC Central Kitchen, we have found that men and women returning to this city after stays in prison prove to be some of our best students. If we want our justice system to be one of corrections, rather than simple punishment, we have to give our returning citizens a chance to rebuild their lives in ways that are both fair to them and responsible to our community’s need for safety and order. Given the extremely high costs of incarceration, writing off everyone with a record is bad business for taxpayers. At DCCK, we work closely with parole officers to identify those who might succeed in our tough, loving environment.

As you might imagine, not everyone who shows interest in our program pans out. That’s why we have developed a new ‘hybrid program’ for prospective students who are not quite ready for our intensive 14 week course in culinary arts, or those who turn out to struggle after a few weeks in our kitchen. For people who qualify for the hybrid program, we offer three days per week of meaningful community service helping to prepare 5,000 daily meals for hungry and homeless residents of our city. While engaged in the fast-paced production of our kitchen, they practice their knife skills and acclimate themselves to a professional work environment. And on the days they’re not in our kitchen, each hybrid trainee has a set schedule of meetings to attend and services to enlist that our staff designs in conjunction with their case managers. Together, we connect these individual with the support services they need to prepare for the next step in their personal and professional journeys.

And, as a culinary arts program, we rely on the contributions of restaurants, hotels, and food service institutions. Some area chefs visit us weekly to provide hands-on culinary tutorials while others host our students in their kitchens during their two-week-long professional internships. All told, we work with more than 75 partner culinary institutions across DC, many of whom respect our work enough to hire our graduates. Our industry credibility has helped our last five years’ worth of graduates maintain a 90 percent job placement rate.

I like to think that the work DCCK does is special. But we could not recruit, support, or successfully find jobs for our clients without these foundational partnerships. Sometimes, the answers to big problems like unemployment or hunger don’t lie in starting new nonprofits or convening another blue-ribbon panel. Sometimes, those answers have multiple pieces, each one held by another group working on the front lines of the war on poverty. When you look to support an organization in your community with your money or volunteer hours, look for those that are implementing smart solutions while using creative partnerships with others to squeeze the greatest value from your contribution. When unemployment is high, we all suffer. So let’s all work together to get our jobless neighbors working once more.



Women’s Work

, February 13th, 2013

webstorywomensworkThis post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign. You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

How many times have you heard someone say “The best chefs in the world are men?” Usually, when people repeat that old line, they’re trying to convince a male that cooking isn’t ‘women’s work,’ that it isn’t unmanly to prepare a meal. These folks mean well. But their good intentions can go bad, fast – especially if you’re a woman who wants to be one of those great chefs.

In the culinary profession, most of the power is held by men. At DC Central Kitchen, we train people who have felt powerless – either due to addiction, incarceration, or long-term unemployment – to take control of their lives and find work in our city’s kitchens. For most of our history, the overwhelming majority of our trainees were men, usually with histories of homelessness or substance abuse. In time, however, we made the strategic choice to seek out more at-risk women for our program. Most of the men who come to us for skills and second chances are single, often estranged from their families. The women, however, are usually primary caregivers and single parents. Teach a man to fish, you might say, and you change his life. Teach a woman the same thing, and you change the lives of her whole family.

Our efforts to empower at-risk women have presented some unique challenges. When women apply for enrollment at DCCK, we ask tough questions about their housing situations and home lives, helping them work through the difficult potential scenarios that lead many women to miss work and drop out of supportive programs like ours. We have developed special partnerships with other agencies to help women secure stable childcare while they are enrolled in our program. And recently, we have begun reaching out to area prisons and reentry programs, identifying female ex-offenders and guiding them into our program before they end up on the streets.

Once our female trainees are enrolled in our program, the real work begins. It’s hard enough being a woman in a male-dominated industry. It’s almost impossible if you feel like you have no self-worth. An astonishing number of the women of our program come to us with histories of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Destructive relationships with men are commonplace, as is the generational repetition of catastrophic mistakes.

That said, even though the women who come to us could easily be described as broken, we aren’t in the business of ‘fixing’ people. Instead, we connect them with their inner source of strength through our rigorous Self-Empowerment Curriculum, special support group for female trainees, and special mentoring relationships with Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional network of women in the food industry. Anyone who can live through abuse, addiction, or prison has already got some righteous ‘life skills’ – we just help them redirect that resiliency in a way that inspires them to break out of dangerous behavior patterns.

At DCCK, we’re doing our part to advance women in the culinary industry. Our program, once 80% to 90% male, saw a near-even gender ratio in 2012. We’re helping our female graduates recover custody of their children, secure stable housing, and pursue continuing education. And we’re creating jobs. In addition to the dozens of female graduates who work at DCCK earning living wages and full health benefits, most members of our culinary training team are women.

We show our female students that they can succeed in the workplace and build successful home lives. We show our male students that having strong women around is an asset, not a threat. Each day, DC Central Kitchen and its trainees prove that professional cooking can be women’s work – work that transforms households and strengthens our community.



Serving Up Second Chances

, February 8th, 2013

jobraisingarticle

This post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign. You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.

The future of America’s economy depends on job training. At DC Central Kitchen, we enroll unemployed, seriously at-risk people who have nowhere else to turn, and give these men and women a second chance to work their way into a job and a better life for themselves and their families.

Over the past 24 years, our intense three-month Culinary Job Training program has trained nearly 1,100 of these ‘tough cases.’ With each success story, our students prove that people who were once dependent on the system can become independent, contributing members of society.

At first, the idea of graduating from our Culinary Job Training program looks pretty daunting to our students, many who are recently out of prison and are facing a gauntlet of other issues including drug addiction, learning disabilities, and even mental health problems. Taking on these challenges, and then taking them down, makes it much sweeter when they finally complete the program.

Each year, about three-quarters of our students come to us with criminal records. There are some offenses that are too severe even for our forgiving kitchen — but we’re proud to provide a space where many people who have made bad choices and done bad things can recommit their lives to something better. At DC Central Kitchen, getting out of the trap of prison and poverty starts with giving back.

For the 14 weeks they spend in our Kitchen, our trainees are deeply involved in our daily effort to provide 5,000 meals to hungry and at-risk residents of Washington, D.C. It turns out that giving back can be addictive. Many of our graduates end up working for us — either in food service, or in other parts of our organization. In 2012, 68 employees were graduates, 13 of which were hired in that year.

The numbers behind our efforts are real and meaningful. Our current class of 25 trainees — the 91st class to come through our kitchen — has combined to spend 167 years in prison. When you add up what they’ve cost this community in incarceration expenses, post-release supervision, drug treatment, and halfway hour costs, our taxpayers have shelled out more than $6.9 million to keep these people off the streets. For approximately $150,000, we can get these men and women working. People who complete our program are 96 percent less likely to return to prison than the average ex-offender, and each annual crop of DCCK graduates adds $220,000 in new payroll taxes to D.C.’s coffers each year.

Behind these impressive numbers are real people who are changing their lives in our kitchen.

Incarcerated for 10 years, Michael’s parole officer told him about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Upon graduating, Michael found mentors in other graduates who were staffers, such as Dawain and Chef Jerald. They provided living, breathing proof of the power of our process. They inspired Michael to succeed. Now Michael is serving as our own Production Supervisor and recently graduated from the Art Institute of Washington with a Bachelors in the Culinary Arts.

“When you’re incarcerated, every day is serious,” says Henry, who spent over 50 years in and out of institutions, beginning when he was 15 years old. After his release from prison in 2011, Henry discovered our program, completed it, and got his first real job at D.C. Central Kitchen. A few months ago, he signed the lease for his very first apartment. Henry replaced prison with a positive attitude. “I think everything’s going to be better. Things will change, but the inspiration I got here, I’m keeping that. I got a smile on my face.”

One of our favorite stories is William, a Class 81 graduate who spent 17 years in prison before coming to us. William heads up a meal production shift at DC Central Kitchen and takes every opportunity to tell his story to volunteers, visitors, and anyone skeptical about what happens here at our headquarters. “I have a second chance now,” he says. “I had a chance to work other places after graduation from the program but I decided to stay here because giving back is really what I want to do.”

Every meal we serve comes with a message of a second chance. We don’t promise that we can fix anyone, but our model is designed to help men and women who have made mistakes get back on track. A job can provide more than money. At DC Central Kitchen, we give our neighbors who have cost this community so much a chance to turn their lives around through meaningful, dignified work.