Updates for Meal Production
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.”
For most college students, Spring Break means more than traveling to tropical destinations. We see this firsthand at DC Central Kitchen during the months of March and April when we welcome floods of eager young people looking to make a difference.
For years we’ve welcomed to our kitchen hundreds of young people from across the globe that choose to spend their Spring Breaks partaking in service projects, learning about different people and places, and being active citizens in their community.
So far, 2015 has been no exception. In the last two weeks alone we have hosted approximately 250 student volunteers who will work alongside our staff, mostly graduates of our Culinary Job Training program, to help process more than 3,000 pounds of healthy produce during their three-hour shift slicing and dicing. We’re already scheduled to host another 175 more for the remainder of March and April!
Thanks to these bright young people who are visiting DC for any number of reasons during their Alternative Spring Break, we’ll continue to prepare and distribute 5,000 meals a day to nearby homeless shelters, afterschool programs and rehabilitation clinics.
To name just a few of our counterparts in service, by the end of April we’ll have enjoyed hosting student volunteers from colleges and universities including William and Mary, Penn State, Ithaca College, Wake Forest University, Belmont University, Pepperdine University, Kent State, Eastern Kentucky University, Georgetown University, American University, and George Washington University.
Thanks to everyone who has given their time in service to DC Central Kitchen and to bettering the lives of our neighbors here in DC. If you enjoyed your experience and it was your first touch point to the issues of food waste and food insecurity, we’d encourage you to look into whether your school has a Campus Kitchen.
The Campus Kitchens Project is our national sister organization that empowers student volunteers to fight hunger in their community. At each of the 43 Campus Kitchens nationwide, students lead efforts to combat food waste and hunger by collecting surplus food from on-campus dining halls, community gardens, restaurants, and grocery stores and transforming it into healthy meals. In the last academic year, Campus Kitchens across the country rescued more than 823,549 pounds of food and served 293,963 meals to 12,006 clients.
Cold weather brings changes to DC Central Kitchen’s daily operations. The city’s homeless shelters we serve are typically closed during the day, but when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, they stay open so clients aren’t forced to go out into freezing temperatures.
DC Central Kitchen’s meal distribution program increases its production during what’s known as “hypothermia season” to support the greater demand for meals. Homeless shelters will add more beds temporarily to support additional clients seeking shelter, and some sites will open on an emergency basis as well.
As members of the DC community, we can all play a role in protecting the homeless from extreme weather injury. Call the Shelter Hotline when you see a person who is homeless and may be impacted by extreme temperatures. The Shelter Hotline is operated by the United Planning Organization (UPO). You can reach the hotline by calling (202) 399-7093, or toll-free 1 (800) 535-7252.
A recent Washington Post opinion piece calling for a national food policy put foodies, health advocates, policy wonks, and political partisans on notice. In “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives” authors Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter took the United States to task for failing to set an overarching vision for the most fundamental determinant of our daily health:—“how we produce and consume food.” They urged the US to embrace a more strategic, coherent approach, and stop undermining our own progress through contradictory stances that advance “diametrically opposed goals.” The miniature manifesto is likely to inspire many philanthropists, policymakers, and advocates and serve as a reference point in America’s food policy debates for years to come.
But smarter national policy is just part of the puzzle. A top-down approach can only work if it’s advancing and amplifying what’s working from the bottom-up. At DC Central Kitchen, we embody many of the principles laid out by Bittman and company. Founded as the nation’s first community kitchen, we’ve been a leading advocate for recycling surplus food, paying fair wages, and building more robust local food systems. For years, we’ve translated their grand goals into the gritty grassroots work of liberating and strengthening our community through the power of food. And what we’re doing is working.
Of the nine ‘guarantees’ the authors would like US food policy to ensure, DC Central Kitchen has pioneered real, path-breaking progress toward six:
- All Americans have access to healthful food. DCCK prepares nearly 12,000 healthy meals each day—5,000 for DC’s homeless shelters, halfway houses, and direct service nonprofits, and more than 6,000 for low-income DC schoolchildren. Our school meals are scratch-cooked, locally sourced, and meet all the health standards that have sparked so much debate in the past few years. And most importantly, kids love them. DCCK’s unique approach to fighting food deserts even won a national Social Innovation Challenge award from Tavis Smiley and the University of Maryland this year.
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives. We’re proof that national policy pushes can work at the local level. As a USDA Farm to School grantee, we increased purchases of six local crops by more than 200% and saw student consumption of items like sweet potatoes and broccoli nearly double. But it look lots of on-the-ground inventiveness and grassroots community engagement to achieve these gains.
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently. Want to see our kitchens in action? Come visit—or better yet, volunteer. Check out our Volunteer Bill of Rights, which ensures that our volunteers have the ability to understand what they’re contributing to and why. Interested in what we’re serving in schools? You can see our menus for breakfast, lunch, and supper here.
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs. DCCK is proud to be a job creator. We train at-risk women and men in the culinary arts and work to hire as many as we can in living wage positions. Today, 60 of our own graduates—people with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and chronic unemployment—now work for DCCK full-time, powering our pioneering programs. We provide a starting wage of $13.60 per hour with full health benefits and a 50% retirement match, because we believe work should pay in America.
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food. Our Healthy Corners program delivers nutritious snacks to 64 corner stores in low-income neighborhoods, marketing our fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods in stores, on buses, and at community events. We conduct taste tests in the school cafeterias where we serve lunch to refine recipes and get kids excited about healthy eating. And we even operate a mobile garden out of the bed of a pickup truck so we can bring seed-to-table lessons to inner city schools and youth programs.
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced. DCCK reduces shipping costs (and emissions) by buying locally; as the only USDA-recognized Food Hub in the District of Columbia, we’re aggregating and redistributing more than 200,000 pounds of local produce each year, investing in dozens of small and mid-size family farms. We also help local farmers sell more of what they grow, by purchasing aesthetically imperfect fruits and vegetables that otherwise wouldn’t have a buyer and would be plowed back under as seed. America wastes forty percent of its food supply each year, and this wasteful practice is a primary driver of that disturbing statistic.
We aren’t experts in climate change, animal husbandry, or antibiotics, so our programs don’t match up with all nine of the goals laid out in the Post—and we’re perfectly fine with that. But if that editorial got you thinking about the future of food in America, we hope our programs will get you excited about what’s already really happening in our country.
Our successes are real, and they’re changing lives in our community for the better. As the important conversation about smarter food policy moves forward, let’s make sure the dialogue is equally focused on smarter food practices, and use those practices to shape better policy.
“I never thought I would be in this position,” says Tarina Munlyn.
Five years ago, Tarina struggled with addiction and lived in the DC General homeless shelter. Today, she is in a vastly better position.
Tarina, a Culinary Job Training program graduate and a DC Central Kitchen staff member says, “I never thought I’d have a job, and get to give back to the community, and get to work with volunteers from all over the country every day.”
Tarina’s story is just one of many we could share to illustrate the impact our supporters like you make when they give to DC Central Kitchen’s work. It’s the story of one human life transformed through our innovative programs that combat hunger and create opportunity:
Tarina grew up in what she describes as “a drug-infested neighborhood” in Northeast DC. She began using drugs as a young woman, and eventually found herself at rock bottom, homeless, and struggling with her addiction.
After completing a drug rehabilitation program, Tarina met a DC Central Kitchen driver delivering meals to her shelter. The driver told her if she wanted to make a change, she should come to the Kitchen. Tarina enrolled in our Culinary Job Training program, graduated in 2010, and has had a steady living-wage job with full health benefits here at DCCK for four years.
Now, Tarina works in our Main Kitchen leading volunteers in the remarkable daily process of turning 3,000 pounds of recovered food into balanced meals. At the end of the day, Tarina goes home to her own apartment.
Tarina’s story is just one example of what supporters like you can make possible. Envision her story on the annual scale of the 100 men and women we train, the 1.8 million meals we serve, and the 750,000 pounds of food we save from going in the trash and then envision the impact you can make when you invest in DC Central Kitchen.
Your donation to DC Central Kitchen is an investment in our work to combat hunger and create opportunity.
As a DC Central Kitchen supporter, you are part of an incredible process that distributes balanced meals around the city while empowering men and women to overcome obstacles like homelessness, addiction, incarceration, and chronic unemployment in our kitchen.
Thanks for investing in our work this holiday season!
At DC Central Kitchen, we always want the meals we provide to our partners to be nutritious, delicious and dignified. Barbeque food is something that our clients have requested before, but because our meals are created largely with recycled food, we haven’t been able to easily accommodate this simple summer request.
So, when our friends at the Liaison Capitol Hill and Art & Soul asked if they could donate 3000 hot dogs and hamburgers and come cook them, we jumped at the chance to provide meals that were not only going to be tasty and fun, but also met a preexisting request.
A linchpin to this culinary treat was Chef Derrick Wood, owner of Dyvine BBQ in Motion, who donated his impressive mobile grill and smoker for the day to help us create the authentic barbeque flavor. And, thanks to Art & Soul Executive Chef, Doug Alexander, Sous Chef Leo Ferrerio,and the volunteers from Liaison and Art & Soul, we prepped and barbequed 3000 hot dogs and hamburgers that were served with traditional favorites – baked beans, and coleslaw – to our partner agencies for dinner.
Big thanks to the chefs and our volunteers for sharing the food, your time, and your culinary talents that allowed us to provide an extra special summer meal for those in need.