Supplying the demand: Robert Egger at DC Central Kitchen
"People still ask me how I went from running nightclubs to opening and running DC Central Kitchen. I have one simple reply: The Kitchen is my nightclub.
It was 1968, the year that Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were murdered, just two months apart. I was 10, and through my young eyes it seemed America was tearing itself apart over ideas that I found exciting. I could not figure out why people were so upset about racial harmony or finding common purpose that moved us beyond boundaries of class, gender, or generation.
Then, one evening, as I watched a party at my parents' house, I noticed a curious thing. People were dancing in our living room to songs with lyrics that conveyed the very ideas causing so much commotion in the streets. It was then that I began to understand the power of music and its ability to disguise complex issues as entertainment. And it was then I decided I wanted to open a nightclub.
After high school I worked in clubs throughout the city. My first job was at the Childe Harold, where Bruce Springsteen and The Ramones played shows when they came to DC. A few years later, I was working at Charlie Byrd's, where jazz greats like Mel Tormé and Sarah Vaughan were closing out their careers. But during this same time, I began to notice an increasing number of homeless people who were sleeping outside on the street. One night, after volunteering with a local organization that served food to the homeless, I proposed an idea: What if we collected the unserved food from restaurants and caterers? It could save the group money—and, what's more, if the organization also offered homeless people the opportunity to be part of a job training program, it could feed more people better food while also shortening the soup line.
None of the groups I approached with my "central kitchen" idea seemed interested in the concept; some were outright skeptical. So, rather than just tossing up my hands, I decided to postpone opening my own club to help launch what became DC Central Kitchen.
Almost immediately, I discovered that food had the same power as music. And, much like a club, if we could open the kitchen and allow volunteers—from presidents and politicians to students and seniors—to come in and be part of our show, maybe we could get them to consider complex new ideas, challenge prejudices and preconceptions about homelessness, and even break down socioeconomic barriers. Some volunteers start off nervous about working in a kitchen that trains ex-offenders or recovering addicts, but eventually they begin to smile, talk, and work side by side, preparing meals that will nourish the hungry.
Since opening our doors, we have prepared millions of meals and helped thousands of people find new careers or opportunities that will make Washington a stronger community. In addition, we have helped more than 60 cities develop similar programs, and we have launched 32 Campus Kitchens in underutilized schoolbased cafeterias, including our first high school model right here in DC, at Gonzaga.
Even as my work takes me far beyond the District's borders, DC Central Kitchen remains my touchstone. I still find myself drawn to the energy, idealism, camaraderie, and purpose that we foster every day, while we use food to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities." 425 Second St. NW, 202-234-0707