A National Resource to Support Excellence in Community Action

Community Kitchen

Last Revised: Nov 01, 2012 - Initial Posting: Feb 05, 2005

DC Central Kitchen trains homeless and unemployed men and women for the culinary workforce and provides over 4,000 meals every day to partner service agencies in the DC area. The Campus Kitchens Project replicates this model on college and high school campuses nationwide and provides leadership training and experience for students.


D.C. Central Kitchen uses food as a tool to:

  • Strengthen Bodies, by safely recovering unserved food from local foodservice businesses and surplus produce from area farms to provide nutritious meals to local service agencies
  • Empower Minds, by providing culinary job training for unemployed men and women and community service opportunities for youth and adults
  • Build Communities, by providing working examples and innovative solutions, and by advocating for an engaged and dynamic nonprofit sector

DCCK has eight (8) distinct programs and 70 employees: Food Recycling, Meal Distribution, Culinary Job Training, First Helping, The V3 Campaign, The Campus Kitchens Project, and two revenue generating programs, Fresh Start Catering and Contract Foods.

NPR Story on D.C. Central KitchenListen to NPR’s story on DCCK (4:08) and view DCCK videos.

Various themes are used to describe DCCK’s approach:
  • Reclaim (food recycling) is the heart of DCCK’s mission to reduce waste and provide opportunity in the community.  The Kitchen engages restaurants, caterers and other foodservice business in reclaiming unserved food and bringing it to a central location, where it is transformed into nourishing meals for the community by the hands of trainees, staff and volunteers.

The Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act provides a model for enactment of legislation by states to encourage donation of food and grocery products to nonprofit organizations for distribution to needy individuals.  Many states have enacted this type of legislation.

  • Empower (culinary job training program) involves 12 weeks of training to gain professional foodservice skills from skilled chef instructors and guest chefs from leading area restaurants and foodservice establishments.  Life skills training is also offered, along with job retention follow-up.

Various materials can be used as information and guidance to develop a culinary skills training program:

- Program Overview Outline
- Sample Class Flyer with Eligibility
- Program Application
- Community Agency Referral
- Culinary Arts Instructor Job Description

  • Inspire (program graduates as role models) through the successes of program graduates.
  • Nourish (First Helping) provides street outreach to build trust and relationships with people who are living on the streets.  Providing nutritious breakfasts and dinners that meet basic needs engages homeless men and women to take the first steps toward addressing the core reasons that lead to life on the streets.  First Helping makes referrals to service partners such as emergency shelters, substance abuse and mental health treatment centers, transitional housing, and more permanent housing opportunities.
  • Engage (Campus Kitchens Project) creates partnerships between DCCK and sponsoring universities and campus dining services.  Each Campus Kitchen receives donated food from campus dining services, uses existing kitchen space on campus, and harnesses the power of student, faculty and staff volunteers to prepare and deliver healthy meals to community members and agencies.  A leadership team of student volunteers provides the energy for new projects, special events, and volunteer recruitment.  The program teaches students how to make community service part of their personal and professional lives, while offering them a tangible link between their studies and their communities.
  • Inspire (mentoring) through college students volunteering and serving as role models for young people in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Employ (Fresh Start Catering) employs graduates of the Culinary Job Training program who prepare gourmet options for business breakfasts, luncheons and drop-off meals.  Recent graduates develop advanced and specialized culinary skills and paid work experience in a supportive work environment.  They also serve as role models for current students in the Culinary Job Training program.  Menus and pricing are available for breakfast, lunch, party fare and sweets.
  • Build (Healthy Returns) also employs graduates of the Culinary Job Training program who cater to specific customer needs for prepared foods on a fee-for-service basis.  Customers range from charter schools to meals programs for the elderly, who benefit from dietary-specific or age-friendly menus.  Students sharpen their foodservice techniques in high-volume meal production and meet service guidelines, production schedules and high standards of quality.  The Healthy Returns initiative offers healthy meals, quality snacks, and nutrition education to disadvantaged youth through partnerships with DC area social service agencies.
  • Serve (volunteers) breaks down the stereotypes associated with hunger and poverty through volunteers and trainees working side-by-side to create the meals that DCCK donates every day.  An on-line calendar is used to schedule volunteers.

Funding for DCCK is through a combination of public (Department of Labor Workforce Investment Act and Department of Housing and Urban Development Continuum of Care for the Homeless) and private sources.  Special fundraising events are held annually including:

  • The Capital Food Fight modeled after the Iron Chef concept featured on the Food Network.  Eight of the top chefs in D.C. compete in brief, 10-minute cooking competitions – four preliminary rounds, two semi-final competitions, and the final contest.  “Secret” ingredients that must be used are revealed just moments before each round.  Tickets are sold at $175 each, sponsors are involved, and a live auction is held.  Chefs from more than 60 of the area’s top restaurants present their favorite foods for sampling throughout the evening.
  • Special fundraising initiatives during the Thanksgiving holiday period:
    • Virtual Turkey with a price chart for various items that would be included with a Thanksgiving dinner.
    • Targeted campaigns to address specific DCCK needs such as the Freezer Fund.  An emphasis is placed on the fact that hunger is a year-round situation needing a response for more than the holiday season.

Keep up with DCCK on Facebook and Twitter.  And Robert Egger, DCCK Founder and President, has written Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All that challenges nonprofits to become more efficient, innovative and entrepreneurial.



As highlighted in its 2008 Annual Report, results for DCCK included:DCCK Annual Report 2008

  • Healthy Returns served a total of 100,000 snacks to 45 afterschool programs
  • 751,523 pounds of donated food was received from farms, restaurants, hotels and other local food-service organizations
  • Served 1.75 million nutritious meals to its 100 partner agencies
  • The DCCK 12-week Culinary Job Training Program has graduated more than 700 men and women to-date
  • CKP opened three new Campus Kitchens and plans to reach at least 25 locations by the end of 2010
  • More than 700 guests sampled dishes from over 50 of DC’s hottest restaurants at the 5th annual Capital Food Fight.

Michael Curtin, Chief Executive Officer
202.234.0707 ext. 119