The right ingredients to feed D.C.

Sep 30, 2011

If you want to feed the hungry in the District of Columbia, you need a lot of resources and perhaps even more resourcefulness. A recent study by the Food Research and Action Council showed that among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, D.C. ranked highest in food hardship for households with children. According to the study, over 37% of D.C. households with children admitted that there had been times in the last 12 months when they did not have enough money to buy food that the family needed.

Fortunately for the city’s hungry, the DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) has consistently shown remarkable ingenuity and dedication when it comes to gathering ingredients, preparing meals and delivering them to agencies and organizations that distribute them to the needy in the nation’s capital. During each day of 2010, DCCK prepared 4,500 meals from 3,000 pounds of surplus ingredients for distribution to 100 shelters, transitional homes and rehabilitation clinics throughout the D.C. area.

In order to meet the high demand for nutritious meals in the community, DCCK has expanded considerably over the last few years. Bank of America has worked closely with them to make sure that the Kitchen has the resources it needs to feed the hungry and meet its growing payroll obligations.

When DCCK first started working with Bank of America in 1999, CEO Mike Curtin estimates they had a full time staff of about 35-40 and very few accounts receivable. Bank of America provided a small but critical line of credit to the organization to support its daily operations—serving as one of the many food kitchens to D.C.’s most needy residents.

Since then, DCCK has significantly expanded its efforts in the "social enterprise" arena through its Culinary Job Training program and "Fresh Start" catering and dining business. Through Fresh Start, graduates of DCCK’s job training program prepare breakfast, luncheons, and drop-off meals for area businesses and community events. What’s more, Fresh Start uses local, seasonal and sustainable foods to help support regional farms and families.

In 1999, Curtin estimates that the social enterprise revenues were about $200,000. By 2010, that revenue had grown to approximately $4 million. The Kitchen now employs 120 full-time workers and it is not unusual to have over $300,000 in receivables outstanding. Today, the credit line now stands at almost $1M to make sure that DCCK never lets its employees down while waiting for payment from its customers.

That financing has also allowed DCCK to take on more catering work. In the last year, they have entered into a contract with D.C. Public Schools to provide meals for students. Matthew Agresti, a Senior Vice President at Bank of America who manages the bank’s relationship with DCCK, points out that government contracts can be valuable but can also result in significant upfront costs.

"The contractor needs to staff up and meet the terms of the contract pretty quickly, but it can take a while for the government payment process to compensate them. The bank’s investment in the Kitchen provides it with the flexibility to take on the new work, and they’ve never let us down when it comes to paying us back on time."

But most importantly, D.C. residents—including D.C. students—are now receiving nutritious, locally sourced meals that help to keep them full and focused in the classroom.

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