Wednesday, September 15, 2010

DC Central Kitchen

“You can’t feed your way out of hunger.”

These are the words of Michael Curtin (shown here in the center), CEO of the DC Central Kitchen. At first, you might think that statement a bit disingenuous, given that DCCK prepares 4500 meals a day in their busy kitchens. This figure includes 2600 meals provided to shelters, as well as additional meals prepared for the other DCCK programs, including the First Helping program, the Fresh Start Catering operation, and the Culinary Job Training Program.

But as Mike explained when we toured the DCCK and interviewed him, the approach taken by DCCK’s impressive program is to use food as a tool to empower people to grow out of hunger. Of the many programs run by DCCK, perhaps the heart is the Culinary Job Training Program. Students are recruited from the programs that receive DCCK meals, halfway houses, jails, and prisons. The lengthy application process includes a requirement to be clean and sober for 120 days, to be in stable housing and with stable day care for any children, to complete a long application, to pass an initial interview, to volunteer for 3 days, and to pass a final interview. Once in the program, the class of about 25 takes 12 weeks of classes, about 50% on culinary skills and 50% on life skills (such as employment readiness).

The 80th class is about to graduate from the culinary school. Overall, the graduation rate is about 88%. We chatted with two student cooks who were about to graduate. Both were anxious to begin their lives on a new track. One already has a job with the DC public schools. Mike said that DCCK is usually successful in helping find employment for its graduates, and they stay with the students in case there are issues to work out on the job.

What difference does it make that one person becomes trained and gets a good job rather than going back to prison? According to Mike, it costs well over $40,000/year to keep a person in prison. The national recidivism rate is about 65% within a year of release. In DC the rate is 73%. In stark contrast, since 2007, only about 2.5% of ex-con graduates from the Culinary School have re-offended. The graduates also are making money, raising their kids to avoid unhealthy behaviors, and living full lives in their communities.

The Culinary Job Training Program is just one of many DCCK programs -- learn more on the DC Central Kitchen website.

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