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 Healthy Corners


Strawberries & Salad Greens Day: DCCK celebrates local, seasonal food at DC Schools

, June 17th, 2016

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“Umm, excuse me miss; you said you were going to teach me about how strawberries grow after I try this salad. I’ve tried it!” an eager Aiton Elementary student exclaimed while examining a little plant with two new strawberries among its leaves.

On Wednesday, June 8th, DC Central Kitchen’s school foods team celebrated the benefits of local, seasonable food with students at Aiton Elementary School.

While passing out tasting plates of our homemade strawberry salad over lunch, the team educated students about the benefits of healthy eating and explained that the delicious strawberries and salad greens came from Kilmer’s Orchard and Mock’s Greenhouse, two of DCCK’s partner farms in West Virginia.

After lunch, students participated in a nutrition education session with our traveling, edible exhibit, the Truck Farm. The Truck Farm is a garden in the bed of a pick-up truck that we bring to schools and youth programs to educate children about how fruits and vegetables grow.

DCCK is no stranger to using local fruits and vegetables in our meals. This school year alone, school lunches have included food made from 251,152 pounds of local product, and nearly 40% of all food used in our school meals is locally grown.



Healthy Corners pop-up markets expand access to fresh produce in DC’s food deserts

, June 15th, 2016

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Last week, DC Central Kitchen held its second Healthy Corners pop-up market at the Chesapeake Big Market corner store in Ward 8. The second pop-up market at this location was resounding success and resulted in the sale of more than 225 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables!

At every Healthy Corners Pop-Up Market, our Nutrition & Community Outreach team brings a variety of fresh produce which we sell at deeply discounted prices. The model provides a risk-free way for store owners to test the demand for fresh produce in their neighborhood without purchasing it themselves, while making healthy food available in communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. The pop-up markets also provide cooking demonstrations and taste tests for corner store customers.

Earlier this year, our Nutrition & Community Outreach team developed a tiered membership system for corner stores in DC’s food deserts to participate in our Healthy Corners model. The first tier includes the standard comprehensive partnership benefits of our existing Healthy Corners partner corner stores, like free refrigeration units and weekly produce deliveries. The second tier is the pop-up model we brought to Chesapeake Big Market last week. Second-tier partners don’t immediately receive the full benefits of refrigeration and weekly deliveries, but do receive quarterly deliveries of produce which our team sells during pop-up events, as well as nutrition education sessions and free marketing materials, as they test and build local demand for fresh food. The third tier of Healthy Corners membership is for store owners who already sell limited quantities of produce, but are interested in receiving promotional marketing materials, like guides for easy, healthy home recipes, that they can share with customers in an effort to grow the demand for more nutritious products.

Chesapeake Big Market is typical of many corner stores located east of the Anacostia River in Ward 8. The interior of the store is lined with floor to ceiling glass partitions, and customers place their orders at the window for the cashier to fetch and ring the items for check-out. During DCCK’s pop-up event, however, the interior of Chesapeake Big Market had an entirely different setup. Beautiful, engaging displays of kale, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, oranges, bananas, and peaches lined the perimeter of the store for customers to peruse and pick at their leisure.

Be sure to check out photos from the Chesapeake Big Market pop-up on our Flickr page and stay tuned for more information about future Healthy Corners pop-up markets!



A healthy milestone for Pi Day

, March 14th, 2016

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At DC Central Kitchen we’re operating innovative programs that fight poverty, hunger, and poor health 365 days a year. Though our work is constant, we’re always striving to do more. In fact, as of Pi Day (March 14, or 3.14) 2016, our Community Outreach team has conducted 314 nutrition education events for our community since January 2015! While many people in our city are aware of our efforts to bring healthy, affordable food to neighborhoods where it would otherwise be scarce, we have made major investments in our outreach and nutrition education efforts in the past few years as well. It’s not enough just to expand the radius of our healthy food distribution network. To create a virtuous circle of healthy behaviors, we’re giving parents, children, and other residents of DC’s food deserts the knowledge and skills they need to make that food part of their daily lives.

In an effort to integrate healthy food and healthy living, DC Central Kitchen’s programs reach DC residents where they are – whether that’s in their community, at school, or at their local corner store. While many DC residents live more than a mile from their nearest full-service grocery store, we’ve found that doesn’t reflect a lack of consumer demand for fresh, nutritious items—just a failure of supply. With over 67 current locations, our Healthy Corners program makes healthy food affordable and accessible.  We develop new products that encourage healthy eating on the go, including fresh-cut fruit, scratch-cooked versions of popular snacks, and healthy, ready-to-eat meals packed with wholesome ingredients.

In order to help DC residents learn how to create full meals out of the ingredients sold at their corner store, our Community Outreach team offers cooking demonstrations and provides recipes cards for healthy meals that can be made using affordable products sold at our Healthy Corners locations.

We believe changing behaviors and creating affordable access to healthy food requires going beyond single-pronged solutions. That’s why we’re fighting childhood obesity and poor health through a recent partnership with the DC Department of Health (DOH) and Playworks, a national nonprofit organization that turns recess and afterschool hours into structured opportunities for physical activity and healthy play. DCCK brings nutrition education and healthy food to Playworks’ partner schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8, and Playworks helps DCCK educate our students about easy strategies for increasing daily physical activity. Together, we’re reaching more at-risk children and families more holistically.

“I was greeted with a big hug from, Michael, a fifth grader at one of our partner schools. He was so excited to recognize me from both Playworks Junior Coach Leadership Program (JCLP) and Class Game Time (CGT). After spending almost 2 hours on Wednesday in JCLP learning about nutrients and playing a game called ‘Meal-ay Race,’ Michael was ecstatic to see me in his classroom the next day.  He knew that we would be discussing similar topics in his class and was prepared to answer every question. He even helped explain the game to his classmates!”-Alexandra Stern, MPH, DC Central Kitchen Nutrition & Community Outreach Coordinator

As the food service provider for 11 schools serving low-income children in DC, we’re preparing and serving up to 6,800 healthy, scratch-cooked breakfasts, lunches, and suppers every day.  Like all educators, we want to see our students take home with them what they learn in school, so we offer recipes and cooking demonstrations to help parents transfer the good habits kids learn at school to the dinner table at home.

DC Central Kitchen’s mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities, and our nutrition education initiatives are just one way we’re building a stronger community through food, together. Whether our outreach team is in a school, an afterschool program,  or a corner store, we’re working to bridge the gap between knowledge and affordability to create a healthier, more prosperous community for us all.



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!



Healthy Corners Program Doubles in Size

, September 10th, 2014

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Last week, The Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine published a new study revealing that while Americans as a whole are eating healthier, low-income individuals are not. Access to quality nutrition is now one of the most important and detrimental dividing lines between rich and poor—and that inequality is making it harder for low-income people to stay healthy, which in turn drives up healthcare expenses for everyone.

At DC Central Kitchen, we’re taking this challenge head on with our pioneering Healthy Corners program. Since 2011, we’ve helped corner stores in struggling neighborhoods stock and sell fresh produce and nutritious items by giving them free infrastructure (like refrigerators and shelving), marketing assistance and affordable deliveries of healthy food. With an average retail price of just $0.44, Healthy Corners products are good for both low-income consumers and small business owners.

To keep these prices low, we work with public agencies and philanthropic supporters to offset some of the costs of running Healthy Corners. Earlier this year, we received a grant from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD) to expand our program from 32 to 62 stores. After a summer of intensive outreach, we met and exceeded that goal, and now 63 small businesses in under-served DC neighborhoods are selling fresh, healthy food that otherwise wouldn’t be on their shelves.

Other key partners in Healthy Corners’ success include the DC Department of Health, Aetna Foundation, Wallace Genetic Foundation, McGuinn Family Foundation, Prince Charitable Trusts, and Kaiser Permanente. Earlier in 2014, Healthy Corners won the Tavis Smiley-University of Maryland Social Innovation Challenge, a national competition seeking solutions to long-standing community challenges.

Thank you to all the partners, supporters, customers, and small business owners working together to make Healthy Corners a success!