Supporting Success at DC Central Kitchen

By: Samantha TenEyck

Advocacy is an extremely important part of raising awareness and support for what you believe in. Growing up, my parents always stressed to my sister and me the importance of not only advocating for ourselves, but also for others. As I grew older, I began to realize that being an effective advocate required interpersonal skills, positivity and a strong commitment to fostering change. Entering the dietetics profession, I knew I would have the opportunity to act as an advocate for others in a variety of settings, but feared my voice would not be loud enough. It quickly became clear to me that advocacy is not solely drawing attention to a problem, moreover, it is about listening to and supporting those who are experiencing the problem. Throughout my rotation with DC Central Kitchen, I had the ability to observe how the work of one food hub could amplify the voices of thousands of individuals facing hunger in the heart of DC.

DC Central Kitchen, founded in 1989 by Robert Egger was one of the first facilities in the area to combine efforts against hunger and joblessness. Once trained in culinary arts, previously jobless adults would collect food that would otherwise be wasted and produce nutritious, balanced meals for shelters and nonprofits. Years later, DC Central Kitchen is a food hub that works in a variety of settings to provide millions in the community with access to safe, nutritious food. DC Central Kitchen continues to perform culinary job training, partnering with 76 community meal agencies, 15 schools and 71 corner stores in the area to provide healthy meals, produce and snacks. Throughout my rotation with DC Central Kitchen, I had the ability to work with the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, a program that aims to expand nutritious food access in corner stores located within DC food deserts. Collectively, DCCK works to clean, cut and package produce and healthy snacks to be sold at wholesale, or below market price to corner stores in the area.

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My partner Cristen and I were given a multitude of projects to complete for Healthy Corners throughout the week, including calculating the nutritional information and creating health factoids for items that the kitchen plans to implement on their new food labels. It was very exciting to have the opportunity to apply our nutrition expertise, however, I found the time spent in the actual corner stores to be particularly valuable. Cristen and I were sent to a Ward 7 corner store, where we were to set up a booth and provide individuals with information regarding the “$5 for $5” fruit and vegetable initiative. Made possible through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program and DCCK, this initiative allows individuals who spend $5 of their SNAP benefit funds in the corner store to receive a voucher worth $5 towards fresh DCCK produce.

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Attracting customers with our fresh fruit samples, Cristen and I had the ability to meet few of the wonderful individuals residing in the Ward 7 community. The residents were overjoyed to hear about the initiative, stating how difficult it can be to find affordable, fresh produce in the area. Thanks to DCCK, we were able to direct residents inside to the brightly lit fridge where the fresh packaged produce flew off the shelves. Looking around, it was clear that the standard corner store offerings were mostly inexpensive, convenience items packed full of sodium and sugar. By providing marketing support, technical assistance and nutrition education to stores and individuals in the area, DCCK hopes to foster healthier purchases among corner store customers, at an affordable price.

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Fortunately, we had the opportunity to work alongside the individuals who make these programs possible. Rather than functioning as solely a food provider, DCCK actively works to form relationships with those facing food insecurity through extensive community outreach. By forming these relationships, DCCK can solicit valuable input from individuals in the community and offer solutions to the root causes of hunger and food insecurity. As a result of successful outreach, DCCK has effectively identified the needs of individuals living in food deserts and provided a solution that benefits SNAP recipients, corner store owners, and even DCCK. Through this experience, I have learned that advocating for a cause, whether it be legislative, corporate or community advocacy, all starts with being an effective listener and relentlessly pursuing your passion for achieving change. I believe that as a future dietitian, I have endless opportunities to advocate for others and I strive to do so.

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