Updates for Job Raising
“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:
- Procure and process 122,000 pounds of fresh, local produce,
- Invest $55,000 in area farmers,
- Prepare 75,000 nutritious summer meals and snacks for kids,
- Save DC summer youth programs $155,000 in food and personnel costs, and
- Provide meaningful, living wage employment to 15 DCCK culinary staffers.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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:
- Close the Meals Gap. Every day, we produce 5,000 meals for 88 partner agencies and nonprofits, of which 25% are subsidized by the programs that receive them. Additional funds here would dramatically improve meal quality, allow us to provide more tailored, suitable options to partner agencies (for vegetarians, seniors, or specific ethnic groups) and, if necessary, increase the quantity of what we prepare.
- Provide Transitional Employment and Job Retention Support. Some of our culinary graduates have been hit hard by employers who have cut back their hours. Others are caught in a trap between leaving welfare behind and initially making enough at minimum wage jobs to pay rent and meet basic needs. Providing continued case management to our grads in the workplace and helping them maintain full-time employment will break the cycle of poverty.
- Build a Value-Added Production and Processing Line. Our Healthy Corners program is doubling in size to more than 60 participating stores this summer, and we’re hustling to keep up with growing demand for our nutritious products. Modern processing and packaging equipment will help us double our production of high-quality snacks and meal items for low-income consumers on the go.
- Pay Living Wages to Culinary Grads Employed at DCCK. DC’s living wage went up, rightfully, by more than a dollar this spring. We’re dedicated to meeting this standard without scaling back on staff—but this increase requires a $160,000 jump in our annual payroll. Investing in quality wages will reduce staff turnover, support productivity, and empower our graduates to build real, family-supporting careers. We will dedicate our evaluation team to measuring the programmatic impact of living wages in the coming year and reporting back on what these wages mean to at-risk individuals and families.
- Update Our Struggling IT Infrastructure. We’re doing the best we can with refurbished desktops, an outdated database, and spotty Internet connections. Fixing these shortcomings would dramatically improve our efficiency and drive dollars currently spent on chronic maintenance issues and bootstrapped solutions toward our social programs.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.