Groups Volunteer to Fight Hunger in Washington D.C.

Things are cookin’ in Washington, DC when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility. Groups with an appetite for volunteerism can work with two particular organizations, each making a significant impact fighting hunger.

DC Central Kitchen hosts over 12,000 volunteers each year to produce a staggering 5,000 meals per day. The facility is not a soup kitchen; meals are prepared onsite and distributed to local nonprofits. The Kitchen also offers a 14-week culinary training program preparing unemployed persons, at-risk youth and ex-offenders for jobs in the food service industry. Some of the graduates remain on staff to work with corporate and association volunteers, and they’re proud to explain how the program dramatically changed their lives.

Communications Director Paul Day says rather than emphasizing handouts to the poor, the program concentrates on self-empowerment for the underprivileged.

“Many of these folks were previously incarcerated or had addiction issues or were living on the streets and depending on the nonprofits and shelters we serve,” explains Day. “Unlike the soup kitchen volunteer experience, there isn’t a divide between our clients and volunteers. They’re working side-by-side to make change. We call this experience the ‘calculated epiphany,’ where volunteers come away with a new sense that people who had previously taken from society can be empowered to change their own lives.”

Sometimes, corporations become so enthralled with the DC Central Kitchen experience, they end up staying on as permanent contributors. SRA International, for instance, originally came onboard solely just to volunteer, but after helping with thousands of meals, they were hooked for good.

“Now, they are not only regular volunteers,” Day says, “but they also host corporate fundraisers for us on a regular basis and sponsor our organization. Wal-Mart is another example of an organization that started volunteering with us and then became one of our biggest corporate donors.”

The NBA’s Washington Wizards showed up last year and participated in a program with famed chef José Andrés, who taught the athletes and staff a few specialty dishes.

Similarly, Martha’s Table offers planners an array of programs, from emergency food/clothing services to family strengthening programs. The organization has an elaborately networked system of mobile food preparation, with post-convention volunteers manning the vans and operating a finely honed system of disbursement. It requires serious teamwork, explains Kim Lyons-Briley, assistant director of development.

“After their convention, volunteers come divide up into different segments, depending on how they can help,” she says. “It’s a direct service, and it shines a light on the most needy in the city, but it’s also a way for the groups to have a transformative experience. You do the work together, so it’s an exceptional teambuilding experience.”

The DC United soccer team has worked with Martha’s Table many times. Contact Lyons-Briley for opportunities about partnering with sports celebs/franchises.