Today marks 33 years since Robert Egger turned the nonprofit sector on its head by reimagining the soup kitchen model and creating our country’s first community kitchen. That’s more than 12,000 consecutive days of using food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. 33 years is a long time to do anything. But for us, this is only the beginning.
Since our start in 1989, we have produced and distributed over 43 million meals, prevented 32 million pounds of food waste, welcomed 3 U.S. Presidents as volunteers, and invested nearly $10 million in local farmers.
Robert’s vision of a nonprofit as a source of liberation for the receiver, rather than a system of redemption for the giver, has guided our evolving programming and services over the years. He once said, “A great nonprofit doesn’t try to fix the problem, it simply reveals the solutions that were there all along.”
Our founding commitment of tapping our community’s existing assets to take on the root causes of hunger is best embodied by our acclaimed Culinary Job Training (CJT) Program. The first CJT class began with only a handful of students learning their knife and life skills in the basement of a row home on Florida Avenue NW. Today, we have empowered over 2,000 men and women with histories of incarceration, addiction, homelessness, and trauma to embark on new jobs and new journeys.
Training adults who have faced past struggles for culinary careers was only the beginning of our fight. In 2008, DC Central Kitchen responded to the Great Recession by launching our Healthy School Food program, which today serves locally-sourced, scratch-cooked meals to food insecure children at 18 DC schools while employing dozens of our culinary graduates. In 2011, to help address food apartheid in underserved communities, we developed Healthy Corners and started delivering fresh produce to corner stores. Healthy Corners currently partners with 53 corner stores who can now respond to growing demand for fresh, affordable food right in their own communities.
To create more opportunities for meaningful work and hands-on training for our students and graduates, we opened our first social enterprise café at THEARC on Mississippi Avenue SE in 2019. This year, we will open our second café, Marianne’s, in the MLK Memorial Library in Downtown DC. Marianne’s will host the District’s first registered apprenticeship program in the hospitality sector, and create more than a dozen full-time employment opportunities for our graduates.
As we mark another passing year, we are excited about what awaits us in year 34 and beyond as we embark on our biggest venture yet, leaving behind the shelter basement we’ve called home for 30 years for an expanded facility on Buzzard Point later this year. Our new building, The Michael R. Klein Center for Jobs & Justice, will allow us to take our place at the center of our city’s workforce and food systems while developing even more innovative solutions to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. We hope you will take a moment to celebrate with us today by learning more about how The Klein Center will provide even more of the healthy food and good jobs our city needs right now.
From all of us at DC Central Kitchen, thank you for supporting our battles against hunger, waste, injustice, and tired thinking over the past 33 years. We are just getting started.