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News for Volunteering
Here’s another chance to help feed the SOUL of the city!
We’re proud to announce expanded volunteer opportunities in the afternoon on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. These new shifts will allow volunteers to play a greater role in meal production at our 425 2nd Street kitchen, assisting staff in producing 5,000 meals each day for over 100 different partner agencies.
The new 1 to 4 PM shift starts on May 1st. Head over to our volunteer registration site to sign up for the new shifts through the end of the year.
This post, republished from The Huffington Post, kicks off our Job Raising Campaign. You can join us in shortening the line and empowering men and women to change their lives. Visit our Crowdrise page and make a contribution today. Your contribution helps us reach our goal of winning $150,000 from the Skoll Foundation. Tell your friends and spread the word.
Each day at DC Central Kitchen, we prepare thousands of meals for hungry and homeless members of our community. This tremendous effort requires the support of dozens of daily volunteers and the hard work of jobless, at-risk men and women enrolling in our Culinary Job Training program.
When volunteers are chopping away in our bustling kitchen, they’re working side-by-side with our current culinary students and paid staffers who are graduates of our program — many of whom came to us with long histories of incarceration, drug addiction, and homelessness.
Stereotypes about “the hungry” and “the needy” are rarely questioned, even by people who want to help them. Perceptions of men and women who have been incarcerated or addicted to drugs are even less informed. These stereotypes are most dangerous when we’re working to find jobs for our culinary trainees. While our students are focused on their futures, their pasts can be a major barrier.
Destroying these old and dangerous stereotypes is crucial. What about the idea that a woman can still be homeless while working a full-time job that pays substandard wages? What about the men who have committed crimes that have transformed themselves to serve the community? We’re out to challenge the idea that people can’t help themselves out of the cycle of dependency. We’re out to prove that people can liberate themselves from the soup line and find well-paying work that makes a difference. We’re out to demonstrate that with the right opportunities and a lot of hard work, powerful transformations can take place.
Despite these challenges, we’ve revitalized a lot of stale thinking. We’re shattering those stereotypes every day by bringing the community to our kitchen and showing them our unique model of empowerment. We call this experience the “Calculated Epiphany,” where folks come to the Kitchen with certain expectations, and leave with a totally different point of view about the people we serve.
We’re thinking long-term about challenging those stereotypes. The 5,000 meals we produce each day for local nonprofits would not be possible without the 12,000 volunteers that come through the Kitchen each year. Our volunteers mean much more to us than free labor. We want our volunteers to come away feeling inspired by what they see.
This experience is unlike anything you’ll get at a soup kitchen, where there is a barrier between the volunteers and those being served. We purposefully break down those physical and personal barriers to challenge stereotypes. Our volunteers come to us from all over the world and work alongside our culinary students and graduate staffers. Sometimes, our students share their stories. Other times, they just talk about sports. Whatever the subject, the act of interacting promotes mutual understanding, affecting the hearts and minds of all involved.
Ultimately, our volunteers see that, if given the right opportunity, people can make extraordinary changes in their lives. We’re taking men and women who were previously dependent on the system and giving them the tools to make their lives better.
This is why we’ve built a solid program of engaging the local hospitality industry. Every class, we bring chefs from D.C.’s best culinary establishments to the Kitchen to perform cooking demonstrations, participate in events, and serve as mentors to our students. We’re building productive relationships with local businesses that recognize the quality of our program and how hard our students have had to work to get through it. We’re showing chefs and business leaders that people can turn their lives around. Ultimately, this helps our graduates break through barriers and find stable employment.
As a community organization, we’re committed to bringing people to us to learn about our work, to shatter the stereotypes that stand in our way. Politicians talk about fighting ‘wars’ on poverty, hunger, and drug addiction. What makes us different? We’re fighting to win. We’re working to change perceptions about what is possible and we’re showing that our model of empowerment works.
At DC Central Kitchen, volunteers are never an afterthought. In fact, they are the backbone of our work. Our work would not be possible without the 12,000 volunteers each year who come to the Kitchen from all over the world, put on gloves, aprons, and hairnets, and produce 5,000 meals each day. A smaller number of those volunteers contribute in other ways, from assisting in street outreach to chronically homeless members of or community to gleaning fresh produce from local farms.
We appreciate the hard work our volunteers do with their bodies. But we’re more interested in their minds. Our volunteers work side-by-side with individuals who come from backgrounds dramatically different from their own. Over 60 employees at DC Central Kitchen are graduates of our Culinary Job Training program. Those employees, who are mostly ex-offenders, spent an intense 14 weeks learning critical skills that would help them find and keep jobs. This program isn’t easy and it takes persistence and dedication, but it’s ultimately a life changing experience for men and women who had nowhere else to turn.
Many of our volunteers are high school and college students. For Will Ferrell, a culinary graduate who works at meal production at DC Central Kitchen, working alongside young volunteers is deeply fulfilling. “I think most kids don’t have a lot of direction and I can help make an impact on their lives when I interact with them here.” In fact, we were so inspired by the power of volunteer service to change the perspectives of young people, we started a national movement for student-powered hunger relief, the Campus Kitchens Project.
For a lot of our culinary graduates who have spent most of their adult lives in and out of tough situations and rough circumstances, opening up to complete strangers about their experiences can be daunting. But the end reward is mutual understanding. We’re demonstrating that if given a second chance, men and women can be empowered turn their lives around.
Ultimately, we’re challenging stereotypes about what can be done to end poverty and break the cycle of dependency. We’re proving that the best solutions are locally-based, community-driven, and focus on self-empowerment rather than hand-outs.
Our goal is to have these ideas spread like a virus. We want our volunteers to come away feeling inspired, to spread the word about what is possible and to get more involved. If they’re students, we want them to get more involved in our national network of Campus Kitchens by launching a chapter at their school. Ultimately, inspiring people to tap their own ingenuity to create those bottom-up solutions is what we’re all about. We cannot do this on our own.
Become part of the solution. Visit our Volunteer page to learn more about ways you can get involved.
We spoke with Richard Lee, Lead Culinary at the Nutrition Lab, about our most consistent group of volunteers, the students of Cohn’s Kitchen. These students are part of Cohn’s Culinary & Hospitality Management Academy, a job training and workforce development program started by Paul J. Cohn, a legend in the DC culinary world and long time friend of the Kitchen.
Q: Who is Cohn’s Kitchen and how have they became regulars at the Nutrition Lab?
Richard: Oh, the kids, I get to talk about the kids! The Cohn’s Kitchen students recently graduated high school and are now pursuing careers in the culinary arts. The program provides a year of training and hands on experience for fourteen underprivileged young adults who are passionate about starting careers in the restaurant industry. At the end of the year the students receive help finding jobs in DC area restaurants; much like I received training and job placement assistance through DC Central Kitchen’s Culinary Job Training Program (Richard is a graduate of CJT Class 77).
Elizabeth Scott, co-founder of Cohn’s Kitchen, reached out to us about volunteer opportunities for the students. Since the beginning of September, they have come every Monday and Tuesday for four hours of hands-on experience in the kitchen.
Q: What was your first day like working with the students?
Richard: I like to orient all our volunteers with a history of DC Central Kitchen, a little bit of my own story, and what we do at the Nutrition Lab. so On the Cohn’s students’ first day, we briefly went over the day’s work, safety and sanitation in the kitchen. From there, we just got to work.
Q: What have the students helped you work on in the kitchen over the past few weeks?
Richard: One of the great things about these students volunteering here so often is that they get to be involved in so many different types of production, from helping us prepare meals for the schools and the shelters to assisting with items for catering events. Every day I assign them to different aspects of what we do down here, and as a result, they get plenty of opportunities to learn new skills along the way.
Q: What has it been like working with this group of volunteers?
Richard: It’s a great experience working with them. I saw all these kids come in dressed out in chef uniforms and it reminded me of when I went through the job training program at DC Central Kitchen. They help me help them. It’s a good group of kids.
Located just two blocks from DC Central Kitchen’s main headquarters, we were thrilled to learn that Jones Day, an international law firm, had selected DC Central Kitchen as the beneficiary of their summer fundraising activities.
In a matter of weeks, Jones Day staff and attorneys raised an impressive $27,000 through an array of in-office auctions, competitions and even a karaoke sing-off.
But the generosity of the Jones Day crew didn’t end there. On the morning of September 11, 2012 – 25 Jones Day employees filed into DC Central Kitchen to take the day’s first volunteer shift to remember the day’s events.
Donning hairnets and rolling up their sleeves, the Jones Day volunteers chopped, peeled, marinated, and roasted in the hot, bustling kitchen. While their intention was to commemorate the day’s events, the day of service also served to connect the Jones Day volunteers more closely with their local community.
Many Jones Day volunteers commented that they passed DC Central Kitchen on their way to work each morning and assumed it was just another soup kitchen. After spending the morning working side-by-side with Culinary Job Training students and graduates, they realized DC Central Kitchen is truly about empowerment.
President Obama, who commemorated the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks by volunteering at DC Central Kitchen with the entire First Family last year, wrote, “By joining together on this solemn anniversary, let us show that America’s sense of common purpose need not be a fleeting moment, but a lasting virtue — not just on one day, but every day.”
If you are inspired by Jones Day and are looking to get involved, contact Abby Elsener at email@example.com to discuss fundraising opportunities for your organization or group.