In the weeks since the Washington City Paper reported a major cut to our contract providing meals to DC shelters, we have been moved by the incredible outpouring of support from so many members of our community. We’ve also heard a great deal of concern – “What does this change mean for DC Central Kitchen?” – and confusion – “How could a decision like this be justifiable?”
After a lot of hard work and critical conversations behind the scenes, we want everyone in the wider DC Central Kitchen family to understand what’s happening and what we’re working toward:
- Even though this new contract is a significant blow to our current financial position, we are not going anywhere. The 10,000 meals we deliver to schools and front-line nonprofits each day are not impacted by this change. While it is likely that we’ll post a substantial financial loss this fiscal year, we are using our trademark creativity to reallocate current staff to new endeavors, including our forthcoming cafe in Ward 8 and fast-growing Healthy Corners program. This process will take time, but we are committed to closing this gap over the next several months and honoring our commitments to employ our staff at living wages with comprehensive benefits.
- Regardless of who won this contract, the contract itself did not incorporate fundamental standards for quality nutrition, sustainable sourcing, or transparent reporting on the impact of taxpayer dollars. Long before we learned that our meal counts were to be cut, we were troubled by what we had seen in the bidding process. That’s why, a year ago, we began working with community advocates and elected officials to envision a Healthy Shelters Act that would translate our city’s most successful food policies from what’s worked in schools and early childhood programs to the shelters that serve thousands of residents experiencing homelessness each day. The Act was officially introduced to the Council of DC yesterday.
- We’re not disputing a contract award. DC Central Kitchen is fighting to change a broken system. Everything we learned tirelessly providing meals to DC’s shelters for thirty years is baked into the Healthy Shelters Act, along with a forward-looking strategy for ensuring that shelters use the power of food to support the health of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The flaws and failings of this recent contracting process underscore the need for decisive legislative action that establishes meaningful standards and ensures real accountability.
- Nonprofits are critical to our local economy, and we could do even more on a level playing field. Last year alone, DC Central Kitchen created $67 million in measurable economic benefits and taxpayer savings in this city. And yet, we are competitively disadvantaged in competing for local government contracts because we are not a for-profit business. It’s time to rethink this outdated status quo so nonprofits and social enterprises can create more jobs and deliver more value in DC.
So – how can you help?
Email (or tweet!) your Councilmember and let them know why you support the Healthy Shelters Act. Help us ensure the Act gets a hearing. When the hearing is scheduled, submit testimony in person or in writing. Share ideas with the Council of DC and the DC Food Policy Council about how the Act can be made even better. Tell your friends to do all those things, too.
You may also invest in our solutions to hunger and poverty today. We’re frustrated and disappointed, but enormously hopeful about our future. We will not stop building a more inclusive, just community in the months and years ahead. You can help us do that by giving what you can and spreading the word.
If you care about providing healthy food and good jobs to our neighbors who need them, stand with us. If you care about food policy and food justice, stand with us. If you care about systems change and public accountability, stand with us. If you care about social enterprise and the role of nonprofits in society, stand with us.
Today, DC Central Kitchen is standing up. Thanks to you, we know we won’t be standing alone.