The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

The DC Central Kitchen Tale

It may not be too much to say that Robert Egger runs an anti-hunger and job training conglomerate and that he is a one-man antipoverty think tank as well. His conglomerate goes by the name of the DC Central Kitchen (DCCK), but it is not a "soup kitchen," and it does far more than just feed the hungry. Indeed, it consists of eight different programs.

Robert Egger
One, "First Helping," provides not just meals but counseling, referrals and a voice mail system for the homeless to stay in touch with families. Another, "Food Recycling," collects and re-prepares more than a ton of surplus food every day from area food service firms. A third, the "Culinary Job Training" program, prepares unemployed, underemployed, former prisoners and homeless adults for food service careers. Culinary graduates, moreover, often go to work in a fourth program, "Fresh Start Catering," which serves both public and private clients, including several Washington social service agencies.

By building program upon program, the DCCK now employs more than 70 people, including 24 culinary training graduates and about 22 former prisoners. In fact, more than 20 percent of management and supervisory positions are held by ex-offenders.

In the process of doing all this, DCCK changes a lot of lives. Listen to Dawain Arrington, who served time behind bars. "The Kitchen actually saved my life . . . Before I came to the program, I was thinking about going into my old field of making money, and that was just a dead end." The Kitchen "gave me a reason to look forward to staying out of trouble, staying out of prison . . ."

DCCK creator Egger, however, never seems satisfied with helping those in existing programs. He constantly thinks of ways to assist others. That why he started the "Campus Kitchen Project," which uses unused college cafeteria food and student volunteers to feed more hungry people. He worries, too, about older citizens "whose pensions and home equity are being devastated" and who, he says, "will likely be in dire straights" in 10 years. He wonders if "the 80,000 public school kitchens sitting dark most afternoons" could be used for after-school feeding of hungry seniors as well as needy children.

"The Kitchen actually saved my life."
- Dawain Arrington

The DC Central Kitchen staff

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