L.A. Kitchen is using the ingenuity of a social enterprise, the compassion of a strong volunteer base, and the business sense of an entrepreneur to make a difference in the lives of Transitional Age Youth (TAY) and ex-offenders. L.A. Kitchen is part of a 60,000 square foot facility in Lincoln Heights, with the kitchen facility being 20,000 square feet. The organization is living up to its mission that neither food nor people should go to waste.
L.A. Kitchen was formed in 2015 by Robert Egger. Egger founded the Central Kitchen in Washington, DC over 20 years ago, and returned home to Southern California Launching a similar concept. L.A. Kitchen utilizes the nearby Central California farming resources and the burgeoning restaurant and foodie economy of L.A. County to provide opportunities for careers in the food industry.
The Empower LA program provides a free 14-week training program to TAY youth and justice-involved adults. Participants are trained in food prep, culinary skills, self-empowerment programs, and receive local internships, providing training and equipping them with skills for today’s workforce. The strength of the program is the older participants who are transitioning out of incarceration and homelessness can impart valuable life lessons to the younger participants of Empower.
The Impact LA program proliferates the fight against food waste by utilizing good but less-than-pretty produce, volunteer engagement, and partnerships with charitable organizations serving vulnerable populations. The program works with formerly incarcerated individuals, providing training and equipping with skills for today’s workforce.
In 2017, Impact LA launched an initiative to feed low income elders a healthy meal, called the Super Seniors Sites. The program aims to deliver an average of 15,000 meals a month to seniors in L.A. County.
The strength of the program is in the Impact participants providing mentorship to Empower participants. From the perspective of being an ex-offender, Impact participants can impart valuable life lessons to the younger participants of Empower.
The additional strength of L.A. Kitchen is in the social enterprise, Strong Food. Strong Food is the revenue generating component of L.A. Kitchen, providing co-packing services, food packaging, and a seniors’ meal program. Many graduates from Empower and Impact are employed by Strong Food. Of Strong Food employees, 35% are Latino, 30% White, and 20% African American, and is split evenly between male and female employees.
Theresa Farthing came to L.A. Kitchen through the Impact program, after pursuing multiple rehabilitation attempts and spending time in jail. She was part of the very first L.A. Kitchen class – starting with 25 participants and ending with 17. She respected the authority figures, learned mindfulness and self-awareness from the on-site meditation room, and graduated as valedictorian of her class. She is now a full-time employee of L.A. Kitchen, financially stable, and strong in her stance against substances that previously plagued her.
Volunteers are welcome at L.A. Kitchen – as much as Egger and L.A. Kitchen volunteer to serve the L.A. community. They recently provided 30,000 meals for firefighters dealing with the widespread and devastating Southern California fires.
By reclaiming healthy food, training unemployed men and women and providing critical job skills, and providing healthy meals to fellow L.A. County citizens, L.A. Kitchen empowers, nourishes, and engages and builds community.