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 Social Enterprise


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.



DCCK guest post: A visitor from across the pond

, March 31st, 2015

SONY DSC

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.”



Our supporters helped raise $55,000 for a new Healthy Corners delivery truck!

, March 23rd, 2015

Thank you for supporting DCCK!

With the help of many generous donors, we met our goal to purchase a new delivery truck!

 

DC Central Kitchen’s one-of-a-kind Healthy Corners program more than doubled the number of locations last summer from 28 stores to 67. To keep up with our growing delivery routes, we drafted an aging, unrefrigerated van into service and made do. But with summer approaching, we needed help to buy a truck that could keep produce cool and looking good despite Washington, DC’s brutal heat and humidity.

We needed the new refrigerated delivery truck to meet the incredible demand for fresh fruits and vegetables among DC residents in low-income neighborhoods costs $55,000. To help us reach our goal, the Carter and Melissa Cafritz Charitable Trust  issued a $15,000 matching grant which we met on Friday, April 10! Their support brought us to our goal of $55,000!

Thanks to the support of our generous donors, we are able to purchase a new truck that will bring affordable fruits and vegetables to our neighbors who rely on Healthy Corners for access to nutritious foods.

Our Healthy Corners program launched in 2011 with the goal of bringing affordable, high-quality produce and nutritious snacks to corner stores in Washington, DC’s ‘food deserts.’ These are parts of the city where widespread poverty and underdevelopment mean that residents have limited or no access to grocery stores, farmers’ markets, or other providers of healthy food. 71% of residents of DC’s food deserts are overweight or obese and 15% have diabetes.

We wanted our neighbors to have healthy choices. So Healthy Corners teamed up with small corner stores to give them the training, refrigerators, and heavily discounted wholesale deliveries of nutritious food they needed to finally sell healthy options at prices their customers could afford. And the community responded, purchasing 141,368 healthy items in 2014! A second refrigerated truck will allow us to deliver 104,000 additional items to participating corner stores in 2015.

And a new truck will allow us to do more than just keep food fresh in transit. With a second truck available, we can make smaller, twice-weekly deliveries to stores we currently visit just once a week. That means more appealing fruits and vegetables on the shelf, less waste of overripe produce, and more nourishing foods purchased.

Because of you, we raised enough funds to help purchase a new refrigerated delivery truck for Healthy Corners. We’ll be ready for summer deliveries and can continue to ensure our neighbors have access to healthy, affordable food. Thank you for supporting DC Central Kitchen! 

 



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’s Chow-Chow Now Available at Whole Foods!

, November 18th, 2014

chow chow

If you didn’t make it to the Capital Food Fight™ last Tuesday, or happen to read the article in The Washington Post last Wednesday, then you probably haven’t heard that DCCK has made our first foray into the supermarket food manufacturing space! That’s right, our Chow-Chow, a sweet, pickled relish made from a combination of vegetables and served cold, is now available on Whole Foods Market olive bars and packaged in ‘to go’ containers at the Tenleytown, Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and P Street locations.

Like all of our social enterprise activities, DCCK will produce and distribute the Chow-Chow out of our Nutrition Lab kitchen facility located in Northeast DC, and each batch will be prepared by graduates of our Culinary Job Training program.

Chow-Chow can be eaten by itself or as a savory condiment on fish, poultry, crackers, and a variety of other foods. Head over to your local Whole Foods and try it for yourself – 100% percent of proceeds support DCCK!