Updates for Volunteering
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.
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.
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.
The students of the first Culinary Job Training class at Central Union Mission yesterday got their first taste of cooking sweets this week thanks to Chef Padua Playa, aka Suga Chef, who taught the students how to make a cold orange soufflé.
Chef Padua won the High Stakes Cakes competition at our 10th annual Capital Food Fight in November, but his history with DC Central Kitchen goes beyond that. He first became acquainted with the Kitchen when his cousin graduated from the Culinary Job Training Program seven years ago. Chef Padua has been coming back ever since. “Coming to the Kitchen gives me some grounding. It’s nice to give back to people who actually appreciate it, and it’s rewarding too.”
The orange soufflé lesson was a perfect complement to the class’s emphasis on eggs this week in their culinary instruction. Chef Padua chose the dessert because it is cool, refreshing, and light, perfect for D.C.’s hot summers. “This was a fascinating cooking experience. I never thought you could use eggs in so many different ways. I never would have expected a soufflé,” said student Derrick Howard.
For some of the students, this wasn’t just the first time they whipped up sweets in the culinary program; it was the first time they created a sweet – ever. “I love when guest chefs come because we learn something so new. Especially me. I’m new to cooking so it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said student Kelvin Johnston.
Chef Padua is one of the 15,000 annual volunteers who lend their time and talents to DCCK, and you don’t need to be an award winning chef like him to make a big difference. We have a critical need for emergency volunteers who can help on short notice when volunteer groups cancel. Join our list of emergency volunteers today.
DC Central Kitchen depends on volunteers to produce 10,000 meals every day – and a large percentage of our volunteers include corporate, school, church, and service groups that are looking to engage more directly with our work.
Pertula George-Redd is DC Central Kitchen’s Volunteer Program Manager, and she’s leading the way to make the volunteer experience memorable and rewarding for the over 15,000 volunteers that stop by every year. Pertula says the volunteer groups that stop by feel inspired and want to know how they can stay involved.
I typically hear that they had a great time working with staff and felt that they accomplished a lot in a short time. They’ve also mentioned that they’re impressed with our operation—that we do so much and that we run a tight ship. Volunteers send kudos to kitchen staff all the time.
Pertula frequently hears from the kitchen staff how much they enjoy and appreciate working with volunteers. They say there is “something special and unique about working in the Kitchen”. Staff get to work side by side with individuals and groups of all backgrounds and from all over the country and world – students, business people, government officials, diplomats, church groups, sports groups etc. The diversity of people and stories makes the experience uplifting, memorable, and inspirational.
I’ve seen volunteers and staff interact without bias or prejudice toward each other. Volunteers tend to be most animated during and after the volunteer shift – they have deep conversations with staff, joke around with them and some have even sang songs to the staff as well as sent them touching thank you notes.
The interactions between our kitchen staff, most who are graduates of our Culinary Job Training Program, and volunteers is something we call the “calculated epiphany”. The goal is to challenge common stereotypes about poverty and homelessness so they can take back stories of hope and change to their communities and support our model of empowerment wherever they live.
In addition to getting our meals out the door, volunteers also help us glean produce from local farms and provide crucial assistance on special projects. Recently, volunteers have assisted us with database management, calling and thanking donors, writing stories, and providing support at fundraising events. Last year, volunteers saved DC Central Kitchen a total of $612,000 in payroll expenses.
Besides the fact that volunteers make most of our work possible, we’re touched and very proud that they enjoy the experience and are willing to share their inspirational stories. Do you have an outstanding story about volunteering at DCCK? Please share it with us! Use this form to share your experience.
And if you haven’t volunteered at DC Central Kitchen, come on down! We have opportunities for groups and individuals 7 days a week – and many shifts to accommodate your busy schedule. Visit our volunteer page today for details.