‘A grassroots community effort’: DC chef carries on tradition of providing meals to community on Christmas

D.C. chef feeds the homeless
Every year, Bren and Friends serves unhoused residents in the D.C. area. (Courtesy Bren Herrera )
D.C. chef feeds the homeless
Volunteers cook for homeless individuals. (Courtesy Bren Herrera )
D.C. chef feeds the homeless
Herrera said the gratitude is what the holidays are all about. (Courtesy Bren Herrera)
D.C. chef feeds the homeless
D.C. chef feeds the homeless
D.C. chef feeds the homeless

A D.C. chef aims to give back to the city’s homeless population by cooking for them this Christmas as part of an inspiring grassroots community effort.

Bren Herrera said it all started 8 years ago when she set out to cook 100 meals for the homeless on Christmas.

“It all starts by fundraising. This is a grassroots community effort,” she told WTOP.

A child of Cuban immigrants, the D.C. chef, who has her own cooking show, Culture Kitchen on CLEO TV, said she was taught by her parents about the value of giving back.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be unhoused. And life throws all kinds of circumstances at you,” Herrera reflected. “My goal is for these people whom we are serving to feel love, and to feel seen, and to be treated with dignity.”

This is the eighth year of Bren + Friends Serve DC, where, on Christmas Day, you can expect to see Bren and a small army of volunteers out cooking for unhoused residents in D.C.

“We are doing 1,200 meals this year, which means we have a lot more hands on deck,” the chef told WTOP.

“We set up at the park,” she added. “So we do a table, linens, and then we set up and serve buffet-style until all the food is gone.”

This year, they’ll be at three locations: McPherson Square (their main hub), Columbia Heights and Anacostia. And the menu is always a hit.

“We do a beautiful, vibrant yellow rice that’s inspired by my mother’s recipe,” Herrera said. “We do Italian style meatballs.” And there are many more sides.

Through her nonprofit, The Bren Herrera Foundation, Herrera said she also collects warm clothes every year that will be distributed.

“Sweaters, hats, gloves, coats, socks!” she said. “Anything to keep our friends on the street a little warmer.”

Herrera said in a city like D.C., where the juxtaposition of wealth can sometimes be startling, the commitment from the community to give back during the holidays shows just how impactful missions like hers can be.

“The community really steps up,” she said. “It comes in the form of their time, and through financial support. It’s folks who know me, and many who don’t. They give anything from $20 to a $1,000.”

Herrera said they’re still taking donations all the way up until Christmas Day.

“We do all the slicing, all the cooking, the sautéing and seasoning on the [Dec. 23], and that’s a really fun day,” she explained.

At the end of the day, Bren said, seeing the smiles and gratitude makes it all worth it, and are what the true essence of Christmas is about.

“Christmas is celebrated all over the world, and we want to be here on Christmas, to help give these folks some of what we have, to brighten their holiday too,” she said.

To help give back, you can visit the House of Bren website.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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