by Fabi Hernandez ’16, Emma Keese ’16, and Heather MacIsaac ’16

Without wavering from their tasks, the employees at DC Central Kitchen welcomed us, the students participating in Beloit College’s alternative spring break trip. They continued to bustle around the industrial-grade kitchen as we dressed in plastic aprons and washed our hands at the sanitation stations. Equipped with hair net and gloved hands, we were ready to chop up hundreds of broccoli heads and scoop balls of ground beef to make Turkish-style burgers.

The Nutrition Lab of DC Central Kitchen, which caters healthy options to schools in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area, was the first worksite for our Spring Break trip to Washington D.C. Over the course of a few hours, the efficiency, organization, and energy of the kitchens described in Robert Egger’s book Begging For Change came to life.

Operating out of the basement of the largest homeless shelter in the city, teams at the main DC Central Kitchen are on the ground providing over 5,000 free meals every day to the capital’s homeless populations. Many of the current employees themselves have experienced homelessness and poverty but have found strength in the job skills provided through cooking for DC Central Kitchen.

During the five day trip, the students met with the organization’s CEO, Mike Curtin, to better understand how good management and business efficiency can help human service organizations improve their impact. Curtin noted that the cost of operating the kitchens is offset by revenue from catering food services to local schools, and that DC Central Kitchen is so well respected that the organization schedules times for incoming volunteers months in advance.

Beloit College offers several alternative trips to major cities every year like Madison or Chicago. This opportunity provided a unique chance to work with both DC Central Kitchen and the MEANS Database to gain insight into the impact of the nonprofit sector in the nation’s capital. Participant Emma Keese’ 16 reflected on her experience, and spoke of the benefits of an alternative Spring Break trip which provides students with the opportunity to connect back to ideas learned in the classroom. “The chance to learn about nonprofit management couldn’t be a better fit for me, an Environmental Studies major who plans to work in the nonprofit field. The trip offered a unique chance to volunteer our time down in the trenches and also be taught about how these singular organizations are structured.”

The students who participated in the break trip came from a variety of backgrounds, with some interested in NGOs and others pursuing their own entrepreneurial endeavors. Despite these differences, the process of grant writing and learning directly from nonprofit organizations like DC Central Kitchen develop particular interpersonal and professional skills that students will carry over into projects inside and outside of the classroom.

This trip would not have been possible without support from CELEB, which funded a significant portion of the trip.  Additional support was provided by Labs Across the Curriculum and the Campus Community Outreach Program, whose student coordinators played a critical role in organizing and leading the alternative spring break trip.

The Fall ’16 Alternative Break Trip to Milwaukee is designed to explore how intentional communities created by urban churches, neighborhoods, and nonprofits, are combating food and environmental justice issues.  Interested in joining? Contact the CCOC at to request an application!

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