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Putting Leftovers to Work for The Homeless

Robert Egger used to manage a night club. But 20 years ago, he created a kitchen in Washington DC that feeds the hungry. DC Central Kitchen collects food that otherwise would go to waste and turns it into nutritious meals for the homeless. VOA's June Soh takes you there and reports on how founder Robert Egger also creates opportunities for the underprivileged.

In a bustling kitchen in Washington, D.C., two tons of surplus or leftover food are reprocessed every day. About 4,500 meals are prepared and distributed to homeless shelters, drug treatment and senior citizen centers in the DC area.

Robert Egger founded D.C. Central Kitchen 20 years ago. He was a night club manager when the idea for the kitchen came to him. He had volunteered one night to deliver food to the homeless.

"I went out and asked simply where did food come from," Egger said. "And I found that was purchased. And I kept thinking, I was working in restaurants all my life. We throw away a lot of food. That is good food. If they go get that food, they would probably feed more people better food."

Soon after, D.C. Central Kitchen was born. The kitchen retrieves unused meats, vegetables and other ingredients and makes complete meals from them.

"Every single day we have refrigerated trucks go out to restaurants, hotels, hospitals, universities and safely pick up the food that they have left over," said Egger.

The kitchen also runs cooking classes, on site. Egger said that the classes are for "unemployed men and women, men and women out of prison, older people who need new work. We offer a chance during a course of 12 week job training program to learn basic skills."

Many of the students used to receive free food. Now, while they learn to cook, they work in the kitchen, contributing to the community.

Michael Robb was a drug dealer. He is also the father of two young daughters. He completed the culinary program two years ago.

"I learned how to make an honest living," Robb said. "It means a whole bunch to me. This education is my family."

The kitchen also uses volunteers. Each year, about 8,000 people help out.

Courtney Raneri is a student at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. She and other Gettysburg students came during school break.

" It is a great experience," Raneri said. " I am part of this because I think it is a great cause and a great organization."

Twenty years later, DC Central Kitchen is prominent. Egger often receives visitors from across the country and overseas: Today, it's from India.

"They are interested in something a little bit different from charity," Egger said.

Egger's childhood dream was to own a great night club. He says the kitchen is like a club. It helps people with food instead of music.

"It is a really exciting place," Egger added. "I don't think I could ever work anywhere else."