When most people think of ‘nonprofits,’ they think of shoe-string organizations, cobbling together moderately-sized miracles with small staffs and smaller budgets. With that mindset, sometimes our visitors are surprised to hear us brag about paying living wages to the formerly unemployed, at-risk men and women who have completed our Culinary Job Training program and become employees of DC Central Kitchen. Shouldn’t we try to find the cheapest kitchen labor possible and focus on keeping our costs down?
Nope. First, there are added costs to substandard wages, and those costs are passed on to the entire community. Many of the adults who rely on DCCK meals have jobs, but do not make enough to cover their families’ costs. These individuals often lack health insurance and their children depend on subsidized school meals to fend off hunger.
Second, we want to help our culinary graduates maintain employment in the long-term. When individuals and families rely on minimum wage jobs with no benefits, they are often an unexpected expense, bill, or health crisis away from poverty and unemployment.
And finally, if a nonprofit in the basement of America’s largest homeless shelter can offer a living wage and good benefits to entry-level kitchen workers, why can’t larger, richer organizations? Our commitment to fair compensation provides the basis for productive discussions about the importance of paying a living wage with the dozens of culinary institutions that employ our graduates.