Helping Hands: Using Your Culinary Skills to Assist Local Charities

April 7, 2010

LET’S SAY YOU were lucky enough to score a ticket to Taste of the Nation D.C., Washington’s culinary event of the year. You’ve sampled yourself silly with hoity-toity fare from more than 60 local restaurants. And if you really broke the bank and sprang for that VIP admission, you may even have a tip or two to take back to your kitchen after hobnobbing with local food celebrities. Now, pay your food fortuitousness forward by slicing and dicing meals for others.

D.C. CENTRAL KITCHEN
One of the District’s most popular food programs, the Kitchen is known for helping folks off the streets and into the kitchen — the majority of D.C. Central’s chefs and cooks are former beneficiaries themselves. Here you can assist them by chopping produce, scooping out lasagna and stirring ginormous kettle pots of turkey chili — all in an effort to crank out 4,500 meals a day. “There’s a lot of joking around and laughing,” says communications manager William Neuheisel. “You get to work with different chefs, and it’s a great way to practice your knife skills.” Go to Dccentralkitchen.org to sign up for morning and night shifts at least three weeks in advance.

FOOD & FRIENDS
This D.C. nonprofit delivers 3,000 meals a day to clients living with challenging illnesses such as HIV or cancer. Since all of the food is prepped in-house, volunteers are vital. Working alongside professional chefs, volunteers can do anything from chopping onions to portioning out desserts. “What’s really great about our kitchen volunteers is that we have people with all kinds of culinary experience,” says Food & Friends’ Lisa Bandera. “We have people with culinary degrees and professional chefs coming in.” Those interested in morning and evening shifts need to attend an orientation held every few weeks. More info at Foodandfriends.org.



OPERATION FRONTLINE
Thanks to this partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank, less fortunate members of the D.C. community are learning how to make and bake nutritious meals with the best of them. Here chefs and those with culinary experience donate their time to teach a hands-on six-week course on cooking nutritional meals on a thrifty budget. (Past menus have included jambalaya and a yogurt and cornflake coated chicken.) Don’t worry — you needn’t have the creds of “Top Chef” contestant (and former instructor) Carla Hall to participate. Class assistants — who slice and dice, wash dishes, and serve as the chef’s lieutenant — just need to show interest in cooking and helping out the community. Sign up for Operation Frontline’s volunteer pool at Capitalareafoodbank.org, or by e-mailing Erika Pijai at pijaie@capitalareafoodbank.org.

SO OTHERS MIGHT EAT (SOME)
If the Obama family can make time to volunteer here — as they did last Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it’s hard to use the “I’m too busy” excuse. For 37-year-old Eric Ciliberti, cooking and serving breakfast here for the last few years with his Booz Allen Hamilton co-workers has been a monthly highlight. “The same crew goes in at 5:45 in the morning, and we cook for a few hours. You know, you’re greasy and sweaty, but at the end of the day you’ve helped these folks who really need it. It’s just a tremendous experience.”

While his morning shift consists of tasks such as scrambling 400 eggs (“It’s just like cooking at home, on a larger scale”), volunteers can also cook and serve up a hot lunch — adding up to 800 meals a day. Want to show off a favorite dish? “A lot of regular volunteer groups get together and ask everyone to make a casserole or a certain number of chili,” says SOME marketing and special events manager Tracy Monson. For more information, go to Some.org.

» Give While the Giving Feels Good: Taste of the Nation D.C.
» Event Horizon: Giving Generously, ‘Burgers and Bubbles’ at Morton’s the Steakhouse

Written by Express contributor Kris Coronado
Photos courtesy Capital Area Food Bank; Zoshia Minto

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express · April 7, 2010