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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Staff profile: Crystal

, November 13th, 2015

Crystal

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted saying: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” That concept is embodied by one of our staff members and Culinary Job Training (CJT) graduates, Crystal.

Crystal is living proof that with enough drive and passion, a person can truly turn their life around. After returning home from prison with a felony on her record, Crystal knew she would have to build her life up from scratch. At age 30, she had no prior work experience and nothing to her name except a very supportive family, and more than a little ambition.

After returning home from prison, Crystal began volunteering at a local nonprofit called Friendship Place in order to gain community service hours as terms of her release. It was here that she learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Crystal wanted to live a life of purpose; she wanted to find a way to do something she enjoyed, while also earning a living wage, and she knew this would be a difficult task with a felony on her record. She had never cooked before, but wanted to find a way to gain marketable skills, allowing her to find more than just a job, but a career.  So, she set out to pursue her goals –  a woman on a mission.

“I didn’t want to just learn how to do something and get a job; I wanted to acquire a skill that I could use to get other jobs. So, I focused on learning, as opposed to just being there. I showed up every morning on time, excited about being there.”- Crystal Marshall

Upon graduating from CJT in January 2013, Crystal began working at Geppetto Catering in Riverdale, Maryland. Six months later, Crystal was hired by DCCK to work in our School Food program for which we serve up 4,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to low-income D.C. schoolchildren every day. Only one year after joining the School Food team, Crystal found herself promoted to a supervisor position. She now works in DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab in Northeast, DC, overseeing her team of 12 staff as they all work together to meet each day’s quota of healthy meals for 10 schools in the District.

Not missing a beat since choosing to change her life’s path, Crystal not only has a job she loves, but has nearly completed a degree in computer science as well. Crystal climbed onto a moving train that’s not stopping anytime soon. She feels she has recreated herself. As this incredible young woman continues to beat the odds, it seems only the sky is the limit for her.


 

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Staff profile: Crystal Marshall

, September 17th, 2015

Crystal

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was once quoted saying: “The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” That concept is embodied by one of our staff members and Culinary Job Training (CJT) graduates, Crystal Marshall.

Crystal is living proof that with enough drive and passion, a person can truly turn their life around. After returning home from prison with a felony on her record, Crystal knew she would have to build her life up from scratch. At age 30, she had no prior work experience and nothing to her name except a very supportive family, and more than a little ambition.

After returning home from prison, Crystal began volunteering at a local nonprofit called Friendship Place in order to gain community service hours as terms of her release. It was here that she learned about DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training program. Crystal wanted to live a life of purpose; she wanted to find a way to do something she enjoyed, while also earning a living wage, and she knew this would be a difficult task with a felony on her record. She had never cooked before, but wanted to find a way to gain marketable skills, allowing her to find more than just a job, but a career.  So, she set out to pursue her goals –  a woman on a mission.

“I didn’t want to just learn how to do something and get a job; I wanted to acquire a skill that I could use to get other jobs. So, I focused on learning, as opposed to just being there. I showed up every morning on time, excited about being there.”- Crystal Marshall

Upon graduating from CJT in January 2013, Crystal began working at Geppetto Catering in Riverdale, Maryland. Six months later, Crystal was hired by DCCK to work in our School Food program for which we serve up 4,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to low-income D.C. schoolchildren every day. Only one year after joining the School Food team, Crystal found herself promoted to a supervisor position. She now works in DC Central Kitchen’s Nutrition Lab in Northeast, DC, overseeing her team of 12 staff as they all work together to meet each day’s quota of healthy meals for 10 schools in the District.

Not missing a beat since choosing to change her life’s path, Crystal not only has a job she loves, but has nearly completed a degree in computer science as well. Crystal climbed onto a moving train that’s not stopping anytime soon. She feels she has recreated herself. As this incredible young woman continues to beat the odds, it seems only the sky is the limit for her.

 



Summer processing helps DCCK deliver farm fresh produce to DC schools

, August 24th, 2015

tomatoes (2)

Summer means logistical modifications at DC Central Kitchen when we adjust staffing for the changing school schedule and accommodate the huge volume of produce we source from local farms.

When the 10 schools to which we provide meal service let out for the summer, many staff members of our school food team jump into production mode to process the seasonal fruits and vegetables we purchase.

Last year, we purchased more than 200,000 pounds of produce from local farmers – reinforcing our support of local businesses while sourcing nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables we need for our meals. Where most grocery stores will turn away blemished produce, DCCK will purchase these items of the wrong size, shape, or color at a reduced cost and use them in our meals. This win-win scenario means farmers earn a profit without wasting their crops, and we’re able to save money while investing in local businesses.

Rather than source a number of different items that make menu planning more challenging for our school food staff, this summer our procurement team sourced items  that stand up well to freezing, thawing, and cooling – like cabbage, collard greens, corn, yellow squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. This produce is washed, cut, sealed in vacuum sealed bags, and then frozen until we need it again when school resumes in the fall.

Where our daily meals for local nonprofits and other social service agencies rely heavily on donated items, our school food meals are planned well in advance with purchased items.  This careful thought of what produce we source not only supports our year-long school menu planning, but processing more labor intensive produce in advance also means that our school food team will spend less time preparing these items during the school year as they’ve already been processed and frozen.

We are capturing produce at the height of its seasonality, which means we are able to capitalize on the nutrient content of that produce when it’s at its best. When something is picked ripe and immediately processed, you lock in that delicious flavor that seasonal produce has to offer. Thus, our processing allows for produce that not only tastes better, but is better for you.- Katie Nash, DC Central Kitchen School Food Program Manager and Registered Dietician

Already this summer we’ve bulk processed more than 13,000 pounds of produce. At DC Central Kitchen, we’re not only committed to providing healthy and locally-sourced food for children in DC, but we’re equally as committed to being reliable business partners. Through our purchasing, we’ve invested more than $7,200 with local farmers including the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction and Public House Produce, a local family farm located in Luray, Virginia.

Restructuring our process to accommodate summer’s bounty is complex, but it’s a win-win for our staff, students, local farmers, and inventory!



DC Central Kitchen and Playworks team up to provide healthy snacks for DC youth

, June 22nd, 2015

SONY DSC
Earlier this month, DC Central Kitchen visited a group of 60 local elementary students to share healthy eating tips and kid-friendly recipes.

Our nutrition outreach team joined the 4th and 5th graders during their “Junior Coach” training at the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy with Playworks DC, a national organization that brings positive play and physical activity to schools. The students attend six DC public schools in low-income areas across DC’s Wards 7 and 8.

DC Central Kitchen’s nutrition lesson included guidance on healthy snacking and demos for two easy-to-prepare recipes: banana butterflies and edible ladybugs.

To make it approachable for the students, our team used simple recipes with 3 or fewer ingredients —each snack took only about 5 minutes to prepare! Students also went home with recipe cards to create the snacks again at home.

DC Central Kitchen and Playworks are already planning for further ways to partner and provide nutrition education and physical activity promotion for DC’s youth. To learn more about DC Central Kitchen’s community nutrition outreach, visit http://www.dccentralkitchen.org/healthyfutures/.



Good business is a 365-day-a-year job

, May 17th, 2015

school food

“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:

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.



DC Central Kitchen serves up 108 dishes in 3 hours for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge

, May 17th, 2015

healthy lunchtime challenge

For the fourth year in a row, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team was chosen to prep, cook, and plate more than 100 dishes based on recipes submitted by young people in all 50 states. The catch? It had to be done in a mere three hours!

First Lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Education teamed up again this year to create the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner – a competition that engages kids ages 8-12 in creating an original, healthy recipe. Finalists’ recipes were cooked and plated by DCCK on May 15th for the official judging, and one winner from each of the 50 states will be selected and have the opportunity to attend a Kids’ State Dinner at the White House in July.

It took more than a week’s worth of planning to prepare for last week’s event, which included recipes like sriracha shrimp over quinoa with vegetables, a sweet turkey chili with kidney beans, and fish tacos. Judges included Debra Eschmeyer of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move program, representatives from the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture, as well as two kid graduates of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters class.

DC Central Kitchen’s culinary team while busy in the week’s leading up to the judging, were well-suited to cook and plate the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge kid-created recipes. As the primary school food provider for 10 DC schools, DC Central Kitchen knows a thing or two about developing meals kids will actually eat. From our Fresh Feature Friday taste-testing activity that engages young people in their very own lunchtime ‘food democracy,’ to the 6,300 locally-sourced, scratch-cooked, healthy meals served every day to kids in DC’s low-income communities – DCCK has what it takes to meet the incredible task of assembling more than 100 healthy recipes in a short period of time.

You can learn more about our school foods program in our latest annual report.