Updates for Meal Production
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.
DCCK Opens New Baking Corner to Provide Healthy, Whole Grain Snacks and Baked Goods to 35 Afterschool Programs
On August 7th we celebrated the official opening of DC Central Kitchen’s new Baking Corner! Thanks to key investments from our friends and partners, and a generous matching grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, DCCK is able to bring our healthy baking program to fruition.
Back in April we announced DC Central Kitchen Production Manager William Ferrell’s concept for an innovative baking program at DCCK, for which he hoped to create healthy, whole grain snacks and breads for the afterschool programs we serve. William, who came to DC Central Kitchen in 2010 after being released from prison, was a student in our Culinary Job Training program and now serves on staff as a supervisor in the Kitchen. With a long held passion for baking, and a personal interest area for culinary growth, William realized he could make our snacks for afterschool programs more nutritious and less costly by doing more baking on-site and relying less on packaged, processed foods.
William creatively uses ingredients such as natural sweeteners and avocados to make traditional favorites, like banana bread and cheesecake, much healthier. For the Baking Corner opening, William shared samples of some of his original baked goods recipes, including pumpkin bread with lower sugar content, and whole wheat biscuits. Our guests indulged in his healthy treats while exploring some of the new equipment purchased for the Baking Corner. Among several items that now make up this new space, William and his team have access to multiple stand mixers and special attachments, a proofing box to help bread rise, a wood work table for rolling dough, and lots of new baking pans.
We can only achieve our mission to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities with the help of our many partners. Because of this support, William, his team, and the more than 15,000 volunteers that work in the Kitchen each year are now able to put his ideas into action by working in this space to create new, innovative snacks and healthy meal concepts for our partners. We’re excited to leverage the talent and passion of our culinary staff and dedicated volunteers to ensure that the afterschool programs for low-income children that rely on our meals receive healthy and nutritious snacks that fuel their minds and future success!
Join us at the Kitchen to check out this awesome new baking space and help put William’s brainchild into action.
In late spring, DC Central Kitchen Volunteer Manager Pertula George-Redd introduced a new, interactive volunteer orientation. With 15,000 volunteers working at the Kitchen each year, the orientation is a powerful way to share why our mission and our work is so important.
“A lot of volunteers don’t know that much about hunger in DC or how DC Central Kitchen’s programs are helping. I think volunteers want to learn more, and find out where and how they can help. That’s why it’s so important to really discuss what their work in the kitchen means.”
There are two orientation activities, each designed to stimulate a meaningful discussion about hunger and poverty in DC. In one activity, volunteers read a card with a statement like, “stand up if you had breakfast this morning,” and on the opposite side of the card is a statistic about food insecurity. In the other activity, volunteers are asked to consider what expenses they would cut based on a specific low-income family scenario and budget.
One volunteer wrote in a follow-up survey, “I really enjoyed the orientation, and the cards helped [me] gain a better appreciation of the very real issues facing those less fortunate in our community.” Both activities are simple ways to get volunteers to learn about and better relate to the challenges low income Americans face trying to make ends meet. The orientation activities provide a much needed a desired context for the work each volunteer does in the kitchen.
A simple change like this can have a tremendous impact on the community when volunteers leave the kitchen better informed about the very real issues of hunger and poverty, and also filled with the efficacy to take action to help strengthen our community.
Check out our new volunteer orientation yourself by signing yourself (or a group of friends or co-workers) up for a volunteer shift: www.dccentralkitchen.org/volunteer.
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 email@example.com.