My friend pat found this wonderful article about Robert Egger, respected and admired as founder of D.C. Central Kitchen and longtime revolutionary in the war against hunger, recently won the food industry's Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award for his humanitarian work. Tamara Jones interviewed him for the Washington Post. Here are some of his thoughts on generosity, change and current trends in charity and hunger. You can read the full article here.
Do 20-somethings give? Is there an age when people start giving?
Both the economy and the attitudes of the younger generation are going to shift. They see their time as philanthropy.
Is there a glamour factor to that, too?
This is one of my major concerns, that what we've really kind of devolved into is almost cause-of-the-year, what's popular, who has the best pitch.
Who's where in the caste system that you see emerging right now?
You have all these efforts to feed hungry children when the reality is there are probably more hungry seniors in America than there are children. These are men and women who fought World War II. These are men and women who led the civil rights struggle. These are men and women who built our roads and a million other things that we owe them a debt of gratitude for, yet we refuse to even deal with the issue of senior hunger in America...And with all due respect, we've been putting children first for 40 years and I don't see any indication that that strategy has really worked.
What's different today from when you started doing this nearly 20 years ago?
When I first opened the kitchen, restaurants donated a huge amount of food. Caterers donated a huge amount of food. And they just don't anymore. The science of food service has shifted in just 15 years. . . . At the end of the day, it's efficient, it's smart, and yeah, we shouldn't waste food, but is that the country we want? Do we want to feed leftover food to working women? The reality is, if you had to pick the face of hunger in America, it's a woman with two kids and a steady job, and she is doing everything right, but at $8, $9, $10, even $12 an hour, that's not enough to pay rent, put gas in the car, get shoes for the kids and pay for food. And we know -- we know -- at the end of the month, she's going to come up short. We have to step out of this charity model, and as nonprofits, we have to start being involved in the political discourse. Hunger's not about food. It's so much bigger.
How do you define generosity?
So much of what we do is still about the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver. What I'm interested in is the liberation of the receiver. That's how I look at generosity. Generosity isn't giving something so I feel good about myself, although that's okay. I'm always amazed when people come in to volunteer at the kitchen and realize they're having a good time, that it's not ashes and sackcloth...
I worked for this charity that would send money to Bangladesh to save pagan babies. And now, some 30 years later, they're sending back microfinance. Muhammad Yunnis, founder of the Grameen Bank, just won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for lifting 100 million people out of poverty through small loans. That's the difference between charity and change! Now I'm about to take his model of economic empowerment and apply it to D.C. by launching a street-food business that'll rock this city to the core by giving people who graduate from the kitchen's training program a chance to own their own carts.Should one segment of the population be prioritized over another? Is this a case of discrimination against seniors? Do we feel better about ourselves for feeding children because they are cuter than old people, even if the elderly are just as vulnerable? How should our giving reflect both mercy and justice? How can we honor the dignity of vulnerable people with being patronizing toward them? How can we change create a more just society for ALL people that balances individual freedom with community responsibility?