Seniors get healthy deliveries from DC Central Kitchen, DoorDash

As D.C. Central Kitchen looks to operate with a $1 million revenue shortfall, it is raising questions about the District's contract process. (Courtesy DC Central Kitchen)

For the first 33 years it prepared meals for food insecure people in the nation’s capital, DC Central Kitchen knew it wasn’t providing scratch-cooked meals to everyone who needed them.

“We could never quite reach seniors who were homebound, who were isolated, because we delivered meals in big refrigerated trucks, usually family style,” said Alex Moore, chief development officer with DC Central Kitchen, which in 2023 moved out of the basement of the Federal Shelter, into a facility in Southwest DC, near Audi Field.

Now, after two years of partnership with DoorDash, and its Project Dash program, 50,000 fresh, healthy meals have been delivered to D.C. senior citizens facing food insecurity.

Wednesday, D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and representatives from DC Central Kitchen and DoorDash marked the milestone of 250,000 total meals delivered to food insecure District residents of all ages.

Since DC Central Kitchen’s start in 1989, Moore said the meals have been made and individually packaged by the nonprofit’s culinary graduates, many who had previously faced challenges including homelessness or incarceration. It began its collaboration with DoorDash in 2022.

“So, we could prepare the meals that we knew how to make, and DoorDash could use their incredible logistical reach to bring those meals directly to local D.C. senior citizens for free,” Moore told WTOP.

Moore said the meals are prepared each morning at DC Central Kitchen, “and we line up all these meals” for pickup by DoorDash Dashers, “and now 150 seniors a day are getting these beautiful, healthy meals, brought directly to the senior’s front door.”

The program costs nothing for the food insecure seniors, Moore said.

“We work directly with that senior, to figure out when they need meals, and how many meals they need,” he said. “They can enroll in our free daily deliveries, and we’re able to serve seniors who otherwise might not get a meal that day.”

To this point, Moore said the program has been funded through private donations, through a variety of local community supporters, including foundations.

For its part, since 2018, Project Dash has made more than 6 million deliveries, of more than 100 million meals throughout the U.S. and Canada, with food shelter partnerships similar to the one with DC Central Kitchen.

“Sometimes mobility issues, lack of access to transportation, or stigma can be a barrier to accessing charitable food and healthy, nutritious meals,” said Katherine Rodriguez, DoorDash’s head of national policy engagement. “Delivery can overcome those things.”

Asked whether Dashers might be less inclined to provide prompt, courteous service to a food insecure senior, who might not be able to afford a tip, Rodriguez and Moore say the opposite often occurs.

“Dashers are paid just like for any other dash,” said Rodriguez. “We actually have a lot of Dashers  who prefer to do these kind of deliveries because it helps them connect more directly to their community.”

Rodriguez said a Dasher who provides these DC Central Kitchen meals to seniors, will “be the same one delivering your favorite restaurant meal, or your grocery item that you need last minute.”

Moore said the Dasher’s connection to the community helps both DC Central Kitchen and DoorDash.

“Being able to have consistent Dashers, who make this part of their daily routine, they get to know the older adults receiving these meals, it really changes the dynamic,” said Moore. “We know we can trust that part of the process.”

In January of this year, Moore said DC Central Kitchen was serving approximately 2,600 home delivered meals a month through Project Dash. Last month, more than 4,200 meals were delivered.

“Many seniors are reluctant to ask for help,” said Moore. “Once they know that what they’re getting is really done with care and purpose, it makes them want to tell their friends and others in similar situations that you can trust this as a solution that’s really going to be there for you.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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