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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Updates for Job Raising

Class 99 suits up for success

, March 18th, 2015

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On March 4 Culinary Job Training Class 99 visited longtime DCCK partner, A Wider Circle. The organization located in Silver Spring, MD furnishes the homes of more than 4,000 families a year and provides unlimited professional attire and accessories for those in need. With graduation and upcoming job interviews around the corner, we took the men of Class 99 to A Wider Circle to experience the tangible capstone of becoming a professional – bringing home a suit.

DC Central Kitchen and A Wider Circle have maintained a strong partnership for years. Their professional attire showroom not only includes a personal shopper to help our graduates find the right style for their personality, but the organization has also been relied upon to help our graduates find furniture for their first home. The partnership exemplifies good business for nonprofits. We’re able to focus on skilled culinary training while providing A Wider Circle with clients who are ready to use furnishings and clothing as they become self-sufficient and take on the next chapter of their lives.

DCCK Outreach Specialist Jeff Rustin says: “One thing I love about this partnership is that it really helps our students move in the right direction. They are deserving of this kind of attire and once they put it on, you can see their confidence in their smiles and the way they carry themselves.”

We’re suiting up our graduates in more ways than one. We’re preparing them for their future and a 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. We’re proud of what our students accomplish, and it wouldn’t be possible without the wraparound services and support we receive from partners like A Wider Circle.

Come join us at Class 99′s graduation at 2pm on April 10 at the US Navy Memorial & Heritage Center to see these motivated men and women dressed to impress for their new lives ahead!

8 simple rules for righteous entrepreneurs

, February 27th, 2015

The following is adapted from a speech made at the 2015 Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit.

At DC Central Kitchen, we talk a lot about social enterprise. Usually, we use the term when we’re talking about DCCK initiatives, like our Healthy School Food program, that not only bring nutritious food to our community, but simultaneously earn revenue for our organization and, most importantly, create sustainable, living wage jobs for graduates of our Culinary Job Training program. We’re really proud of being a true job creator, and you’ve probably heard us mention that we now earn 60% of our annual budget through social enterprise.

Over the last decade, the term ‘social enterprise’ has been embraced by countless nonprofit, for-profit, and philanthropic groups—and that’s a good thing. We should be empowering nonprofits to embrace their economic potential and encouraging businesses to be better corporate citizens. But with so many different actors using this term, it’s on the verge of not meaning anything at all.

So, we have a suggestion for a new way of describing our work. Back in 1999, a Wall Street Journal reporter visited DCCK. Long before social enterprise was a ubiquitous term, here was a resourceful outfit, fighting food waste, combating hunger, giving economic opportunity to jobless adults, and smartly deploying every dollar for maximum impact. Puzzled, the reporter asked our founder, Robert Egger, just what she should call him.

“Call me a righteous entrepreneur,” he responded.

All these years later, we’ve returned to Robert’s insightful quip, and found new meaning in it. What follows are our eight rules for righteous entrepreneurs:

1) It’s OK to be a little anti-social in service of your mission. The term ‘social enterprise’ doesn’t fully embrace the competitive realities faced by organizations that are striking a balance between doing good and doing well. We think mission-driven organizations should be tough competitors so long as that competitiveness is in service of their core values. If a righteous enterprise is worth anything, its principles should be worth fighting for. At DCCK, one of our line-in-the-sand principles is that we don’t believe in handing out free food unless it’s paired with some form of meaningful empowerment, a means of addressing the root causes of why people are hungry to begin with. We draw that distinction a lot, even if it means challenging some popular perceptions about what it means to fight hunger or passing up funding that might compromise that core value.

2) Maintain a sense of productive impatience. Focus on something, do it well, and move on as a better version of yourself. We believe that anytime someone asks us ‘What’s new with DCCK?’ that we should always have a meaningful answer. It’s not enough to stand pat, protect your reserves, and wait for the next grant or angel donor to roll in. As Robert was famous for saying, we believe in relentless incrementalism, doing the little things a little better, a little bigger, a little bolder, and a little more beautifully each and every day.

3) Beware the folly of scale. Many start-up social enterprises are long on vision. Before they’ve made their first payroll, they’re talking about taking their operation to new cities and new countries. But as Robert argued in a powerful REDF op-ed in 2014, meaningful scale isn’t just about opening up more franchises or moving more units. It’s really about scaling bigger ideas about righteous enterprises, fair wages, preventative measures, and racial equity that can change the operating environment of our programs, rather than simply building programs that work within existing constructs. That’s the difference between plugging into the Matrix, and being The One who can reshape it. Too often, the cult of scale glorifies the individual social entrepreneur rather than the community or cause it’s intended to serve. Because a righteous enterprise is about fulfilling a vision, not satisfying an ego, growth plans must be keenly attuned to community feedback. There’s a reason that The Campus Kitchens Project’s growth has been so steady and sustained. Our model of replication encourages students to carefully examine existing needs and services, and in doing so build robust community connections that can support lasting change.

4) Shoot to thrill. As Robert told that WSJ reporter in 1999, pity is incapable of creating anything of substance. One person’s guilt cannot liberate another from the bondage of poverty and lack. The ideas and actions of a righteous enterprise should excite others about what’s possible and capture their imaginations. And most importantly, those ideas and actions should excite the people who work for that enterprise. Come volunteer with us sometime, and ask the women and men running our kitchen how they feel about DCCK (or check out this video).

5) Be proactively responsive. A functioning operation can’t be purely reactionary, but it also should never put its mission and constituents at the mercy of a rigid five year plan. For example, last year, our Evaluation Unit found that the number of DCCK culinary graduates who were finding part-time rather than full-time employment was creeping up. Instead of patiently waiting for existing employers to create more full-time opportunities, DCCK teamed up with food business incubator Union Kitchen to help create new employers who could offer those full-time jobs. We then piloted a transitional employment program that had a 100% success rate in guiding our graduates into full-time, unsubsidized employment with Union Kitchen member businesses.

6)  Failure is an option, if you’re failing forward. Failure is a far better teacher than success. And we believe that sharing our failures can help others build on our work and move our community forward. That’s why we took three years of lessons learned through our Healthy Corners program, compiled it into an honest, practical how-to manual, and gave that manual away for free to anyone who wants it. Healthy Corners spent years on the bleeding edge of innovation, and we want other groups to replicate what’s now working, avoid approaches that clearly didn’t, and find ways to do an even better job at fighting food deserts.

7) Don’t take %$#@ from anyone. You can’t succeed if you’re always afraid of someone cutting your funding or denying your next grant application if you speak your mind, or adjust a program, or embrace a new political cause. If that concern comes up a lot, you probably shouldn’t be working with those partners anyway. On an individual level, don’t put up with people disrespecting the people you serve or the sector you work in. When people tell us, “Oh that’s so good of you to fight hunger,” we tell them how smart it is, and why it’s smart for them to get involved too.

8)  We want to be humble about this last one, because it may not make sense for every group or every cause. But at DC Central Kitchen, we believe we have a moral obligation to put ourselves out of business or go out of business in the attempt. Our model of empowerment is designed to shorten our community’s line of hungry people by the very way that we feed it—from engaging our culinary students in our daily meal production, to providing living wages, to helping 80 partner agencies across DC save $3.7 million dollars in food costs annually that they can then reinvest in their life-changing services. But beyond our model, we believe our daily business involves taking risks in service of our community and putting our money where our mission is. Instead of using our (admittedly small) year-end surplus to boost executive salaries, we provided an additional match to our employee retirement fund—because we believe women and men getting their first jobs after decades of unemployment or incarceration deserve all the help they can get in building a decent, dignified retirement.

Dig the idea of #RighteousEnterprise? Check us out on Twitter @dcck and join the conversation!

DCCK achieves 100% employment rate for adults without GEDs

, February 12th, 2015


A critical new policy brief from the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region (CFNCR), entitled “Charting the Course,” brings new attention to the employment crisis facing individuals in our community without a high school diploma or its equivalent. “More than 60,000 DC residents are essentially locked out of the City’s economy” due to this lack of credentialing, the brief claims, before rightfully calling for strategic investments in a “strong workforce development plan to bring these residents into the District’s economy as full and successful participants.”

At DC Central Kitchen, we couldn’t agree more. In 2014, our Culinary Job Training program began recruiting and accepting more individuals without high school equivalency to better serve this marginalized population. Upon graduation, 83% of these students found a job with a starting wage of $9.84 an hour—not bad, but not as good as DCCK’s typical results. The same percentage of individuals with diplomas found a job upon graduation, but they earned nearly a dollar more an hour, with an average starting wage of $10.62.

But we didn’t stop working with our graduates at graduation. Our students without high school equivalency ultimately achieved a 100% job placement rate, but they and our workforce development staff had to work harder and longer to find employers that would accept them. Critically, over time, the wage gap between those with diplomas and those without them closed. Within a year of graduation, individuals without high school equivalency were earning an average of $10.82 per hour, while those with it were earning $11.08.

Our sample size isn’t huge, and no one program could possibly serve the 60,000 women and men excluded from DC’s economic opportunities. Our results show, however, that there is hope. We join the authors of this valuable policy brief in calling for a smart, strategic, and adequately resourced solution to this crisis. We’re happy to share what we’re learning, and eager to join our nonprofit, public, and private partners in the effort to put our neighbors back to work.

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

, July 7th, 2014


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

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.