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Looking Back: One Year of Volunteers at the Klein Center for Jobs and Justice

Melissa Gold

Volunteers have always played an important role in what we do – it takes a lot of hands to prepare and package more than 16,000 meals each day! During the pandemic, distancing and safety guidelines forced us to effectively suspend our volunteer program at the Kitchen. So when we welcomed our first official shift of volunteers at our newly opened Michael R. Klein Center for Jobs and Justice on April 1st last year, it wasn’t just another volunteer shift. It was like welcoming our family home after a long absence! 

Since restarting our programming, more than 13,700 volunteers have joined our production team and Culinary Job Training students in the CoBank Volunteer Zone, totaling over 37,900 hours of chopping fruits and vegetables that go into thousands of meals for shelters, community centers, after school programs and schools each day. That all matters, especially now—but the heart of our volunteer experience has always been what we call ‘the calculated epiphany.’ When you volunteer at DC Central Kitchen, you’re not just preparing meals for “others.” You’re working side-by-side in solidarity with our culinary students and graduates to meet our city’s critical needs together—learning something about our community and the people you share it with while you chop. 

“Working with the volunteers is just like giving back to [a group that helped me] when I was once a recipient,” says long-time DCCK employee Dionte, who helps welcome and guide volunteers with a smile every day. “Interacting with them—giving them the beginning, the middle and the why of what we do in here—and letting them know that what you prepare is an extension of yourself. It’s love and pride in what we do.” 

The new facility has given DC Central Kitchen the opportunity to expand our volunteer program over the past year. In addition to a designated space that accommodates more people, we’ve been able to add shifts for busy schedules.  

“We can accommodate everyone from high school and college students to someone with a 9 to 5 who has an extremely busy schedule, but still wants to give back to their community,” shares Guest Experience Specialist Anyé Queen, who coordinates the schedules of groups comprised of as few as two to as many as 50 volunteers at a time. “It’s been really helpful to be able to reach and connect with different types of volunteers.”  

There are ways to volunteer beyond picking up a knife, too! For volunteers who want to be part of harvesting some of the fruits and vegetables that make it into our nutritious meals, spots are now open for gleaning sessions at one of five partnering area farms that begin in May. Volunteers interested in sharing their professional experience and expertise are encouraged to reach out to our team about ways to work with our Culinary Job Training students on professional development, like honing their interview skills.  

By the end of 2025, we aim to add another 9,000 meals to our daily output, distribute hundreds of thousands of additional units of fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores in neighborhoods without access to grocery stores each year, and do even more for our community. Our volunteers will continue to be a huge part of achieving those goals.  

THANK YOU to all of you who have given your time and support—not only over the last 12 months here at our new home, but throughout the decades—so we can continue to do more in our community. To sign up for your next volunteer shift at the Kitchen, visit dccentralkitchen.org/volunteer today!