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Talking Turkey: How Our Community Came Together to Feed Thousands

Everything But The Turkey volunteers prepare coleslaw at the DCJCC.

Thanksgiving is days away, and this year, we have received an overwhelming number of requests for additional meals and grocery kits. The lingering effects of the pandemic on local food insecurity and joblessness, supply chain shortages, and inflationary pressures are all impacting our Washington, DC neighbors – and DC Central Kitchen’s ability to serve them.

However, thanks to creative local partnerships, generous donors, and dedicated volunteers, we will still provide more than 4,000 delicious, healthy, scratch-cooked holiday meals to shelters, community centers, and schools this Thanksgiving.

Supply chain issues have increased our per-meal food costs by 20% this year. Finding turkey has been particularly difficult. The prospect of having enough turkeys to produce and serve thousands of meals seemed unmanageable until we received a series of generous donations, including 100 full-size turkeys from our friends at Safeway, and 6,000 pounds of prepared turkey from Cuisine Solutions. Additional timely donations from our partners at Butterball, Keany Produce, Class Produce, and Coastal Sunbelt will provide much-needed produce, grains, and proteins to round out our Thanksgiving meals. 

Our holiday prep started this past Sunday at the Edlavitch DC Jewish Cultural Center’s (DCJCC) 25th annual Everything But The Turkey (EBTT) event. For the past 18 years, EBTT volunteers have prepared thousands of delicious side dishes that we pair with our main course and distribute to scores of nonprofits and community agencies across the city.

DCJCC CEO Dava Schub said of the event, “I hope through this partnership we can elevate our community’s understanding of food access issues in our city. What matters is people having access to fresh food 365 days a year. DC Central Kitchen does the work to ensure people have access to healthy, nutritious food beyond the holiday season.” 

The event, which hosted 500 volunteers over the course of five shifts, produced more than 200 large trays of collard greens, sweet potatoes, green beans, and coleslaw, while offering a rewarding opportunity for families and friends to come together to remind us of what this holiday, at its best, is all about. 

Sig Libowitz volunteered with his wife and two daughters. “For us, this event is an extension of Tikkun olam, meaning we believe everyone has a responsibility toward repairing the world. We believe in contributing good deeds when we have the chance,” he explained. “Volunteering at EBTT allows us to pass this tradition of service on to our children, and hopefully in the future, we will be here doing this with our grandchildren.”  

To supplement our EBTT side dishes, we also partnered with FRESHFARM on its Fresh Food Drive at Dupont Farmers Market ahead of the holiday. Pierre Grahn, FRESHFARM’s Market Operations Manager, noted the unity of the food community, saying, “What I really value about this work is everyone coming out and coming together, especially after the past year and a half. It’s an incredible convergence of our food system working together to help the community.” 

Throughout the month of November, FRESHFARM raised $1,000 from market shoppers which our staff then used to shop at various Dupont Market stalls on Sunday afternoon. We were able to source additional potatoes, leafy greens, and peppers from several local vendors, including Dodo Farms, Black Rock Orchard, Chicano Sol Farm, Anchor Nursery, Deep Roots Farm, Garner’s Produce LLC, New Morning Farm, Potomac Vegetable Farms, Shenandoah Seasonal, Spring Valley Farm and Orchard, and Toigo Orchards that will be incorporated into upcoming menus from the Kitchen. 

“This is what community is all about,” said Gale from Deep Roots Farm. “If we could do this in a more frequent and sustainable manner for all communities involved – that would change things for the better. That could make a difference.”   

While our fight to end hunger is far from over, we continue to be grateful for the volunteers, farm partners, and donors who help us make a difference at Thanksgiving and all year round. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at DC Central Kitchen!