I’m currently sitting 3,500 miles above the world. Above the people and the animals. Above the passing trains, cars and buses. But my concentration, instead, is on the clouds. The clouds that seem so endless and infinite in a sky just as vast. As I sit in this state of existentialism, my body flies to India while my mind remains in America. My mind — filled with American customs, norms and Westernized idealisms of health — is about to experience the culture shock of one of the fasting developing countries in the world: India.
But I digress to my last week in Washington, D.C., simply because during a time of venturing into the unknown, focusing on something concrete and wholesome steadies my mind.
Across America, food is passed out, yet hunger still remains. Jobs are available, yet people still can’t afford rent. Shelters are open, yet people still sleep on the streets. These Band-Aid approaches to health are not enough to stimulate long-term physical and mental health. Many organizations narrow their aid to one specific focus. It’s an incredibly complicated situation, because people have immediate needs and these needs must be met, but narrow-minded help is a temporary solution to a permanent problem. Nonetheless, the city of Washington, D.C. has paved a new path of holistic care for its citizens.
To help illustrate this example, I cite the streamlined and progressive non-profit of D.C. Central Kitchen (DCCK). Their mission is to limit food waste and help lift people out of poverty. Their motto is “Food alone will never end hunger. Jobs will.” With this in mind, DCCK takes many active roles within the community. Everyday, they cook over 5,000 meals to distribute to homeless shelters and half-way houses. They also provide a 14-week culinary arts training program for the unemployed. The training program is for marginalized individuals with a history that typically stigmatizes them out of the job market. This includes people who are homeless, were previously incarcerated, without a high school diploma and/or struggle with addiction.
My fascination with the program lies in its ability to treat the whole individual. To provide support for the individual’s immediate needs while also creating a platform of stability and advancement for the future. The culinary training has many aspects including cooking and kitchen skills but also focuses on self-empowerment and financial planning. Rehabilitation teaches the students to believe in their worth and purpose within the larger community — something they have forgotten after years of being ostracized. During the last stage of the program, students are assigned to an internship within a local restaurant or catering company so they can grasp what it truly takes to work in the culinary world. Each step of the program creates one more building block to a healthy and stable life.
However, all of these steps would be irrelevant if the students did not have the basic needs of survival. Because without food, you cannot be productive in the kitchen. Without a roof over your head, you cannot focus on your studies. And without money for transportation, you cannot arrive to the designated location for learning. Therefore, DCCK goes one step further to insure these individuals are supported throughout the training program. The non-profit supplies its constituents with groceries weekly. They help to organize living arrangements for the individuals. And they also provide students with a transportation stipend.
The cost of this program is not cheap. However, its statistics show the programs’ funding and mission is paying off. There is a 85% graduation rate. There is a 90% job placement rate within one month of graduation. And after a two year followup, 70% of the graduates are still employed long term. These individuals now have full-time jobs, health insurance and permeant housing. They contribute social and economic capital to America. A holistic approach to health is the cure to a long standing and perpetuating cycle of poverty.
So I urge you to stop the stigma. Stop the marginalization. Because the homeless and the jobless are typically not lazy. In fact, 70% of the homeless population in the United States have jobs, showing they don’t suffer from laziness. They suffer from a lack of livable wage and affordable housing. They want to help themselves. They want to better their lives and their family members. However, the one-size fits all model for health and wellbeing does not work. Instead, organizations and programs intended to help the impoverished, the hungry and the jobless need to bring care to the individual and not the individual to care.