The spirit of Thanksgiving infused the DC Central Kitchen on Thursday, and with an international vibe, as a group of diplomats that included five ambassadors helped slice and dice vegetables and make casseroles for Washington’s needy. Organized by the State Department, the two-hour visit was an “opportunity” to experience what service means in the United States, said Wendy Spencer, the President’s point person for national service. She assured them, “You’re going to love what you hear about DC Kitchen,” which she praised as “very, very special.” The outreach to the diplomats works both ways, she said. “We’re learning that [service] means something different in every country.” The diplomats were also instructed on how to appropriately wash hands—scrub with soap for the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”—and how to safely wield a large, sharp kitchen knife: carefully, and don’t wave it around in conversation.
The delegation of 17 included ambassadors: Akramul Qader of Bangladesh and his wife, Rifat Sultana Akram; Mohamed Tawfik of Egypt and his wife, Amani Tawfik; La Celia Aritha Prince of St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Manuel Sager of Switzerland; and Olexander Motsyk of the Ukraine and his wife, Natalia Terletska. Other nations were represented by family members of ambassadors, including Mónica Pellegrini, wife of the Chilean ambassador; Suzana Jolevska, whose husband represents Macedonia; and Farangis Shamsova, daughter of the Tajikistan ambassador.
Dan Hall, DCCK’s administration director, explained they would be helping to prepare meals “that will feed many thousands, which has a ripple effect—healthier bodies, healthier minds.” He said DCCK has long welcomed visitors from other countries; representatives of more than 20 nations visited the facility in the past year to observe and participate in their work, “so we are always welcoming of international folks every day of the year.”
The diplomats, some arriving in their official black sedans with diplomatic plates, entered the kitchen through its entrance in the alley behind the CCNV homeless shelter at 425 Second Street, Northwest. They filled out routine waiver forms and then took seats in a classroom-style setting for orientation. “Our mission is to use food as a tool to help transform lives,” said Hall. “When you think about it, it’s just food that you eat every day, but we’re using that food as a conduit for opportunity, whether it is sent out to children in the city, or to teach people culinary arts.” He said that as much as possible the food used by DCCK comes from partnerships with local growers, restaurants, wholesalers, and other sources.
When orientation was complete, the men and women were handed smart-looking aprons—navy blue, bearing the State Department logo—and hairnets, which are as strict a requirement as the hand-washing and hygienic gloves. For a moment their diplomatic composure gave way to giggles as they fussed with their new apparel. Hall led them into the kitchen, where they matched up with cooks who guided them through their tasks. They were told the food they used was only some of the 630,000 pounds of produce and meat that daily arrives at DCCK and goes into making approximately 5,000 meals.
The visit to Central Kitchen was the second stage of a two-part program called Share the Season, which was designed by the Office of the Chief of Protocol to highlight the scope of community service in America. It began at the offices of the Business Roundtable, where Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made welcoming remarks. He was joined by representatives from ten prominent nonprofits with strong local connections, including Martha’s Table, DC Scores, Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, Northern Virginia Family Services, and Habitat for Humanity of Washington.