I have hit the streets every single day for the past 225 days searching for someone to give my $10 to. This journey started out during a difficult time for me. For the first time since I was 12 (stop calling the Department of Labor, I was a paper boy!) I was out of a job. Through the Year of Giving I meet so many other amazing people who are in similar situations and every day they look for work or someone who will give them a chance. Today I met a person who does just that!
Robert Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the nation’s first “community kitchen”, where unemployed men and women learn marketable culinary skills while donated food is converted into wholesome meals. Pretty cool, eh?
At 52, Robert’s life has taken an unlikely course for someone whose dream 30 years ago was to open the quintessential nightclub in the country. Back then he worked in clubs and bars and even got to see the Ramones and Bruce Springsteen play in what is now the Darlington House in Dupont. As we walk east along E Street, Robert explains how in 1989 he cooked up this idea to feed the poor after a volunteer experience. 20 million meals later, he and DC Central Kitchen have done a lot of good and given over 700 men and women full-time employment as well!
I had seen Robert once before. He spoke at an event earlier this year and I was so impressed at how he sees the world. He can take 5 random subject ingredients, toss them together and come up with a coherent message that is meaningful and memorable. It’s no surprise that he spends a great deal of his time speaking to groups around the country about harnessing nonprofit power.
He was born in the little town of Milton, Florida (population about 10,000) nine months after his parents tied the knot. “I was a wedding night baby!” he says with a wide grin that reaches outside of his goatee. “1958 – me, Madonna, Prince and Kevin Bacon!” Can you name three famous people who were born the same year you were? I don’t think I can.
One thing you definitely notice about Robert is that he speaks fast. Trying to walk and jot down notes was nearly impossible so I busted out the Flip camera. Try to keep up…
As he arrives back at the DC Central Kitchen, a young woman named Becky walks by. Robert snags her and beams as he tells me what a great job she has done leading their job placement program. “We placed 20 out of 21 candidates in our last class” Becky says and then hustles back to work.
As she slips out of sight I shift back into my list of questions for Robert. Before I could even get my next thought conjured up in my head another team member, Quinn, walks by. Robert pulls him aside and says “I know exactly what I am going to do with this $10 and Quinn here is going to make it happen!” Quinn’s face looked like most people’s face when I tell them I want to give them $10…a little confused. But he goes with the flow and Robert explains how giving the $10 to Quinn will impact thousands of people in the DC area. This is cool, check it out.
Not only is he the President of DC Central Kitchen, but he has parlayed his success as a social entrepreneur into two other related ventures, the Campus Kitchens Project and Fresh Start Catering. On top of that he founded a political action group that represents the voice of social enterprise and non-profits called V3 and wrote a book (which I just bought!) called Begging for Change that is a plea for reform for the 800 billion dollar non-profit sector.
The guy is busy and keeps an insane calendar, but the chaos of his schedule puts him in front of people all across this country. And when he is in cabs or waiting for a plane to depart he is updating his twitter and facebook status. Hopefully you will get the chance to speak with Robert one day – it’s invigorating. My suggestion if you see him, and you want to try to get him to sit still for a second, is to offer him big-ass margarita made with Herradura Tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice. Drop me a line and let me know if it works!