Our second opportunity to give back was in Washington DC, with a fantastic organization called the DC Central Kitchen. In a nutshell, DC Central Kitchen provides meals across the area for the homeless population, half-way houses, and for low-income students at 15 different DC area schools. Beyond fighting hunger, the DC Central Kitchen provides culinary education for at-risk adults. These skills help to provide jobs and to fight poverty in the areas being served.
During our experience, we were assigned to the "Nutrition Lab" which helps prepare food to be cooked at the local schools participating in the program. We arrived at 12:45 PM for the afternoon shift, after our first seamless attempt at navigating the extensive DC public transport system. The information was pretty vague as far as what we would be doing, so we made sure we had our mandatory close-toed shoes and a big smile when we showed up. We were thanked for our time by the employees in the kitchen as we made our way to the orientation room. Here we joined one other person for the afternoon, a woman about the same age as us who was in her senior year of college at one of the local universities.
An energetic woman, affectionately referred to as Miss Cora, busted into the small conference room and we got a brief overview of the company and what we would be doing for the day. Essentially, the nutrition lab is a branch of the original DC Central Kitchen. While the other kitchen downtown primarily cooks for the homeless, the nutrition lab is dedicated to serving low-income students. The food at the main kitchen is all donated, while the nutrition lab buys from local farmers ensuring everything served is locally sourced and healthy.
First matter of business? Getting into gear. We were all given plastic aprons and hairnets to put on. Just as I thought we couldn't look any cooler, Miss Cora slaps a hairnet around my face to stop any beard hair from entering the food preparation station. We thoroughly washed our hands, threw on some plastic gloves, and then split into 2 groups for the duration of the afternoon. After quietly admitting she didn't want to be at any cutting stations, Maryssa and our new local friend were assigned to the broccoli chopping station while Samantha and I were ushered around by Miss Cora to the chicken prep station. Samantha and I started laughing but we were soon preoccupied with washing and bagging slimy bits of chicken breast. Another local volunteer, named Jeremy, showed up to help with this endeavor. Jeremy had volunteered with the nutrition lab 4 times prior and when I asked him why he picks the DC Central Kitchen (DC CK) to spend his time, he said he loves being able to give back to his community and working with DC CK is always a great time.
While Maryssa continued to chop away at what seemed to be an endless supply of broccoli, Samantha, Jeremy, and I had moved from bagging chicken to labeling and bagging a couple hundred pounds of squash. We worked at a good pace, filling the time with great conversation ranging from where we all grew up to sports trash talk. Almost every employee we talked to was from the area and was passionate about the work we were doing.
Before we knew it, our time was finishing up. After pouring the last bit of orange chicken sauce into gallon jugs, we were able to shed the fashionable aprons, hairnets, and clammy plastic gloves. We were treated to some leftover birthday cake from a staff birthday that day and then we were free to roll out and enjoy the rest of our evening.
Overall, the experience had been less personal than we had hoped since we never had the opportunity to interact with the kids receiving the meals. The experience reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:
"The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit." -Nelson Henderson
While we weren't seeing the impact directly, the food was about to be served to hundreds of kids who might not have the opportunity to have a freshly prepared meal without the efforts of the DC Central Kitchen.
The rest of our DC experience was amazing! We toured several Smithsonian museums, national monuments, and had the opportunity to meet up with some great friends. The transition from our usual woodsy atmosphere to the hustle and bustle of a place like Washington DC was a fun change of pace. Our next experience with volunteering is in Hilton Head, South Carolina where we will be visiting with residents at Life Care Center Nursing Home.
Adventure comes to those who GO!