NTJN Member Spotlight: D.C. Central Kitchen

By Jonathan Philipp, Research and Policy Assistant, National Transitional Jobs Network

central kitchen

In honor of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, we decided to focus our member spotlight this month on an organization that is tackling both these issues at the same time!

Since its founding in 1989, D.C. Central Kitchen has used food as a tool to change lives. Every day they make over 5,000 meals which get delivered to 100 different homeless shelters, transitional homes, and nonprofit organizations at little or no cost. They aren’t just providing food though, D.C. Central Kitchen also directly addresses the root cause of hunger: unemployment.

Through their Culinary Job Training Program, D.C. Central Kitchen helps prepare unemployed, underemployed, previously incarcerated persons, and individuals experiencing homelessness for careers in the food service industry. The program is a 14-week, Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm hands-on training that covers all facets of working in a culinary career. In addition to learning kitchen-specific skills such as food safety and cooking techniques, the participants are taught work readiness skills including punctuality, resume writing, computer literacy, interviewing techniques, positive work attitude, and teamwork. In 2012, the Culinary Job Training Program achieved an 85% job placement rate upon graduation and an 80% job retention rate after six months of employment.

In addition to providing meals and creating jobs to help individuals afford food, D.C. Central Kitchens operates several other programs to make nutritional food more accessible. One of the newer programs at D.C. Central Kitchens is their Healthy Corners program. This program is designed to directly address the lack of fresh produce available in food deserts in low income areas. They partnered with 30 D.C. corner stores and allowed the store owners to purchase produce at a reduced cost for the first couple of months. This allowed the owners time to learn which fresh produce their customers would buy and how much of the produce to stock. In addition to encouraging the sale of fresh produce in food deserts, D.C. Kitchens also provides the retailers with cooking demonstrations, marketing support, nutrition education, and technical assistance.

Another food program that D.C. Central Kitchen runs to help bring nutritious food to individuals experiencing homelessness is Food Recycling. In 2012, D.C. Central Kitchen distributed about 1.86 million meals and this was made possible because of the 700,000 pounds of food they recovered. They are able to achieve this by partnering with local famers and buying misshapen or blemished produce that would have otherwise gone to waste. This partnership benefits both the local farmers who are now able to sell their produce that other stores would not buy and D.C. Kitchen which is now able to use this produce to create healthier meals for their meal distribution program.

Ending hunger and food insecurity is an ongoing process. In Washington, D.C., one in eight households battle the threat of hunger every day. By addressing employment and homelessness in addition to providing meals to food insecure individuals, D.C. Central Kitchen mitigates the effects of hunger while helping to create a long-term solution to poverty.

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.

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