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34 Years of Fighting Hunger Differently

Alexander Moore

At DC Central Kitchen, we love personal anniversaries. When a colleague completes another year of meaningful employment of DCCK. When someone we love marks another year of sobriety. When a married couple who spent their second date volunteering in our kitchen is still going strong.

Organizational anniversaries are a little different for us. We’ve always believed that a good nonprofit – one that’s focused on root causes, taking risks, and shifting power – should be in business to put itself out of business. In DC, where the issues run deep and the levers of power are so close at hand, it’s not enough to marginally expand a direct service program – even a very good one – year after year.

So as we enter our 34th year of operations here in Washington, DC, we aren’t celebrating that our trademark blend of healthy food and good jobs is still needed.

What are we doing? We’re recognizing the incredible commitment that our culinary students, volunteers, staff, and partners have shown for 12,400 consecutive days of continuous operation in the face of blizzards, recessions, government shutdowns, and a pandemic. We’re teaming up with some of our dear friends in the restaurant world to raise awareness and funds for our mission. And we’re undertaking the boldest expansion of our fight against hunger and poverty in DC Central Kitchen history.

Our founder, a renegade nightclub manager turned nonprofit sector disruptor named Robert Egger, didn’t just cook up the radical idea of combining meal preparation, food recovery, and culinary job training in a single, raucous, centralized kitchen. He taught us how to bring relentless energy to the daily struggle of providing nutritious food and rigorous job training while demanding that those front-line efforts support a larger project to change minds, smash stereotypes, and influence policies. After all, he said, the most important battlefield in America’s fight against hunger isn’t the stomach. It’s the brain.

Because of your support, we have already served 47 million meals and trained 2,100 of our neighbors for culinary careers. That’s powerful. What’s more powerful is that those nutritious, dignified meals have been prepared by our culinary graduates earning living wages alongside community volunteers, reframing the very notion of who serves a community and how. Along the way, this model has inspired the launch of 100 like-minded community kitchens across the country, shaped Federal policy on food recovery, and redefined what’s possible in the worlds of farm-to-school and social enterprise.

Now, because of all the volunteers, food donors, philanthropic supporters, and community partners who took a chance on DC Central Kitchen’s revolutionary proposition, we are taking the fight from the aging shelter basement we’ve called home for most of our history to a transformational new facility worthy of our students and city: the Klein Center for Jobs and Justice.

For the first time, we have a commercial kitchen built for large-scale scratch cooking. A classroom and teaching kitchen designed for how students learn. An on-site café for practicing customer service skills. Learning technology for our front-line staff to progress in their careers. Innovative partnerships with Black food entrepreneurs developing new products. Welcoming spaces where volunteers can make a real impact in our community. And all this is located in an iconic new mixed-use building on the DC waterfront, offering a profound vision and proof of concept for how to build more inclusive economies and sustainable food systems.

In a place like the Klein Center for Jobs and Justice, our work can’t be dismissed as simple charity. The values that have guided us for 34 years are exactly what our city needs more of right now. And thanks to partners like you, this anniversary is much more than a celebration of where we’ve been. It’s a chance to do more than ever – together.