At DC Central Kitchen, our diverse slate of programs means that our efforts often affect people and our community in very different ways. While the immediate impact of providing a healthy meal to resident of a homeless shelter who might otherwise go hungry that night is inarguable, other activities, like providing financial literacy education to our Culinary Job Training students or encouraging our volunteers to rethink their role in combating hunger and poverty, often don’t reveal their full value until years later.
We’re committed to fighting hunger every single day while keeping our eye on the horizon and working towards fundamental changes that will reduce the need for our services. That’s not an easy set of responsibilities to juggle, but this juggling act played out in a powerful way just a few weeks ago in our basement kitchen.
You may have heard of The Wharf. A major new development along Washington, DC’s waterfront, The Wharf is home to a dozen new restaurants and hotels. We knew these new hospitality partners could be powerful partners in providing jobs to our culinary graduates, so we worked throughout the latter half of 2017 to help match our skilled students with internships and job opportunities at The Wharf. In January, one of these graduates, Ms. Dorothy, who had secured employment at the Canopy by Hilton returned to DC Central Kitchen to serve as the alumni speaker at the winter graduation ceremony for our Culinary Job Training program. She shared that she had already received a promotion to lead cook in charge of all breakfast preparation, thanks to her supervisors and peers identifying her positive attitude and strong work ethic as foundational to her potential as a leader.
That’s a tremendous testament to the dedication of a new hiring partner, and a few weeks later we started to find out why this particular hotel was so invested in hiring and supporting our graduates. A group of Canopy by Hilton staff members had chose to come down to our main facility and volunteer in our kitchen, and two were wearing very familiar t-shirts. The t-shirts were black with the logo of The Campus Kitchens Project emblazoned across the back. The Campus Kitchens Project is a program of DC Central Kitchen that works with colleges and high schools to transform cafeterias into hubs of food recovery, meal preparation, and student leadership development, efficiently replicating our model and values on 63 campuses across the country. These two young men – Edgar and Louis – had helped run the Campus Kitchen at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and embraced the core values of DC Central Kitchen as college students. After graduating and securing management positions at the Canopy by Hilton, they championed the hiring of DC Central Kitchen culinary graduates and welcomed the passionate, genuine, and professional Ms. Dorothy.
“It was clear from the moment she started working on our team that Dorothy was someone I could depend on,” said Louis. “She would be the first one in the kitchen to prep and the last to leave. If something needed to be done, it was handled efficiently and professionally.”
In our line of work, we encounter all sort of challenges, from funding shortfalls to overcrowded facilities. But financial and physical challenges are far less concerning than the ones that live in people’s heads – the stereotypes and problematic assumptions that perpetuate inequality, injustice, and division. Through activities like The Campus Kitchens Project, we’re working to reshape the way people, especially young people, think about the root causes of hunger and poverty and build the collective will between nonprofits, private businesses, and other key stakeholders in our communities that we need to solve them.