The D.C. Central Kitchen trains the unemployed, the homeless and recovering addicts for employment in the restaurant business.
The kitchen is all about changing attitudes. The trainees never held a job; they've been in prison, maybe, or didn't finish school or lived on the street, or any number of bad things. They don't know what they can do. And the volunteers, they're scared, too. But when everyone has an apron and a hairnet on and they work together, they see food as much more than fuel for the body. It's community. I want both sides to be liberated by the experience.
Take Joseph, one of the first graduates of our program: a former addict in Washington 13, 14 years ago. This group of doctors came in to volunteer. There was a weird kind of symbolic wall, almost, between them: Joseph had an "[I]'ll never amount to anything" feeling, and the doctors, they saw this homeless guy with a knife. But he was showing them how to julienne -- cut -- carrots, and when I came back in, there was a joyous exchange going on. Joseph looked like, "I know something they don't know" -- they might be doctors, but he was teaching them something he knew how to do.
We're giving people the power to give. Too many people are raised by the welfare system to take. Most of them are terrified. Maybe they've never finished anything in their lives. But the turnaround that takes place in 12 weeks is incredible. They can teach people almost from their second day here. If I could take a picture on the first day and the last day, you would not believe the difference.
Volunteers get their stereotypes knocked out and understand what community service really should be. We tell them we're a kitchen in the basement of the largest homeless shelter in America. They think: a basement -- dark, damp, leftover food. "What's that -- burgers with bites out of them? Gruel?" We get them to turn all that upside down. Together these diverse people put together a fabulous meal. Today three senators and my people made a salad for 2,000. People, food and money -- we don't want to waste any of it.
-- Interview by Ellen Ryan