citybiz+ Marriott Foundation Gives $5.1 Million to DC Central Kitchen

The J. Willard and Alice Smith Marriott Foundation has given a $5.1 million grant to DC Central Kitchen, a storied nonprofit that feeds the poor in the national capital, according to Crunchbase. Last year, the Robert Egger-founded organization served 3.6 million meals, or nearly 10,000 a day.

The foundation, based in Bethesda, Md., was established in 1965 by the founders of the Marriott hospitality chain, one of whom was a “sheep herder in Utah” who was helped on to a college degree by the generosity of a college professor.

“Without his college education, he might never have traveled to Washington, D.C., to open the nine-seat A&W root beer stand that grew into one of the world’s leading hospitality companies,” J. Willard’s sons Bill and Dick said on the foundation’s website.

“Our parents, for whom the Foundation is named, were generous, giving of their means and themselves. We are committed to carrying on their legacy by giving others opportunity — like (professor) Aaron Tracy gave our father — to achieve their most ambitious dreams,” they added.

The foundation awards grants in four distinct areas: community stewardship, hospitality, education and medical research, especially to organizations serving the Washington, D.C. area.

DC Central Kitchen was founded in 1989 by former nightclub manager Robert Egger, who went on to lead the organization for 24 years, reportedly working seven days a week. Egger found his mission after reluctantly being coaxed by a friend into joining an evening tour feeding the capital’s homeless.

Egger launched DC Central Kitchen during the inauguration of President of George W.H. Bush in 1989, shooting down an “urban myth” about hotels not donating food. “America throws away 25% of what it produces every day. Most people see that as trash, we see it as gasoline for this engine,” Egger later told an interviewer.

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Once when explaining his approach, Egger said he enlisted thousands of volunteers each year even though DC Central Kitchen could get its job done without a single one. The reason, he said, was “calculated epiphany.”

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That epiphany helped inspire the poor and removed prejudices, Egger said, citing an instance when a homeless man working alongside volunteer doctors discovered he knew something they did not — how to julienne and cut a carrot. That, Eggers said, was a Eureka moment in the kitchen and worked wonders for the spirit of the poor and homeless.

DC Central Kitchen also trained the poor for culinary jobs and operated cafeterias and sold affordable farm produce. Since its inception, it has served over 21 million meals, and trained over 700 individuals for culinary jobs. Egger freely shared his secrets, helping over 50 similar kitchens to be opened across the United States.