As the D.C. restaurant industry reels from the ongoing havoc Covid-19 is wreaking, the greater community is coming together in spirit to show their support. From donating to various GoFundMes to purchasing gift cards to use once this is all said and done, we are seeing how much D.C. residents care for their fellow Washingtonians working in the service industry. One local nonprofit intrinsically connected with the restaurant industry is standing out in the crowd as a leader in efforts to lend a hand. DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) CEO Michael F. Curtin Jr. was able to take a breather from the chaos to speak with District Fray about how DCCK is managing during the pandemic.
District Fray: Usually, DCCK functions as a training center for unemployed adults to enter the restaurant industry. How have you had to change your operations due to the pandemic?
Michael F. Curtin Jr.: The focus of what we do is working with people who have had significant barriers in their life and help them find meaningful careers in the hospitality business. We’ve been able to hire folks who have graduated from our training program to support those businesses as well as help them find jobs in the community around the restaurant industry. We’ve always provided thousands of meals a day to the community, whether that’s to shelters, [or] other nonprofits. We have had to put our training program on hiatus now for the safety of the students, [and] unfortunately, put a halt to bringing volunteers in to help prepare meals. But we still have to prepare these meals to bring to our community partners and the thousands of school kids we feed every day who are now not in school, not getting breakfast and lunch and, sometimes, supper in the school programs.
How many meals have you been able to make?
Two weeks ago, I think we made about 36,000 meals. Last week we made just under 43,000. We’re also supporting our students who have been put on hiatus by providing grocery bags for them as well as grocery bags for others to supplement what they might not have at home and what they might not be able to get at the grocery stores.
How are you able to produce all these meals without volunteers?
We have about 60 staff members who are producing school meals daily. A lot of the labor we were using there has been redirected to bagged school lunches that we are handing out, as well as community meals. We’ve re-purposed our staff. Some of the school staff has opted to go on unemployment while we maintain their health insurance, but anyone that has wanted work, we have been able to keep them working and on the payroll and maintaining everyone’s benefits by moving staff into a place where volunteers might have been in certain areas in our production.
How can people support DCCK as you continue to sustain the community?
[If you] go to our website, we have a Covid-19 page that lists several things people can do. Although we want to engage with people before we ask them to invest in us financially in normal times, we want people to know that money is absolutely vital right now to keep the growing need for help satisfied. We have been working directly with farms and food wholesalers that are suffering, but we are going to need money to continue to do that. We’re also asking people to do what they can to support the restaurant industry. We would not be where we are without their three decades-long support. Follow us on social media and share what we’re doing: making meals and making sure that the most at-risk people in our city are getting the food that they need to get through this crisis.
After this is all said and done, how do you think the community and restaurant industry will have changed?
Food has always been something that has brought us together. We have always tried to capitalize on that idea here at DCCK. I think we have taken that for granted sometimes. I really hope that once we get on the other side of this, we have a more intense, healthy relationship with food and know what it means to gather and to be a part of our community. I hope we celebrate and understand the effort that goes into creating a community gathering place. I hope we are going to see commonality, and the fragility of the food system that exists, and be more serious about fixing it [so it] can support our entire community, regardless of where you live and your economic circumstances.
To learn more about DC Central Kitchen’s efforts to provide healthy meals across the city and/or to get involved and volunteer, visit www.dccentralkitchen.org.