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The Los Angeles Chargers Help Rethink How To Feed The Hungry

Leading the charge to feed communities in need.

Robert Egger and his L.A. Kitchen are redefining how to feed communities in need.

This weekend, he’s getting more than a little help from his friends at the Los Angeles Chargers, who will be underwriting a new initiative to serve 30,000 meals to people in need at the Summit LA17, the flagship ideas festival in downtown Los Angeles. Egger hopes to spark a movement and inspire other conferences to do the same during the next year as part of the “One Table Pledge.”

“People are hungry. We have the opportunity to mobilize a community of 4,000 leaders at LA17 to help alleviate some of the suffering in the world,” says Michael Hebb, senior advisor and creative producer at Summit.

Hebb says the idea for the One Table Pledge was inspired by early conversations with Egger. “It became clear that with the right partner (thank you, Los Angeles Chargers) we could match meal for meal, attendee meal to L.A. Kitchen delivered meal, to someone in need,” he says.

Then Hebb thought about using the partnership to lead the charge in the conference world to catalyze change: recruit dozens, if not hundreds, of other conferences to do the same and feed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in each city that hosts a conference.

As thought leaders from around the world gather at Summit LA17, the goal is to collectively inspire every event, conference, and trade show to join them in taking the One Table Pledge in 2018, to match every meal consumed with feeding an underserved community in need. Summit hopes to have 3 million meals served to those in need by the time they reconvene in Los Angeles next year.

Disco Chop as part of Feedback's Feeding the 5000 campaign in May 2017. Photo by Joseph Nakhost/courtesy of LA Kitchen.

Dean Spanos, owner and chairman of the Los Angeles Chargers, will be on-hand along with offensive tackle Russell Okung to help serve meals throughout the weekend. Eager to think differently about community engagement as the Los Angeles Chargers put down roots in a new city, they’ve created a “Fight for LA” platform to support efforts like the One Table Pledge and other important community-building efforts, such as the L.A. Marathon or fitness clinics in Inglewood.

“We are excited to support the insightful conversations and meaningful actions created by L.A. Kitchen and Summit,” said Spanos, in a statement. “This initiative aligns perfectly with our own effort to effect positive change in underserved and underrepresented areas of Los Angeles.”

Egger is at the forefront of doing just that. He pioneered the model of L.A. Kitchen — a culinary organization that rescues cosmetically imperfect food for a training program — during his 24-year tenure as the president of the DC Central Kitchen, to create the country’s first “community kitchen.” Food is donated by hospitality businesses and farms and used to fuel a nationally recognized culinary arts job-training program called Empower L.A.

Since its inception in 1988, Egger’s “community kitchen” concept has produced more than 40 million meals and employed 1,500 men and women. The affiliated for-profit social business Strong Food then hires program graduates, prioritizes serving healthy meals to seniors, and reinvests profits into the training program. His goal is to leave no person hungry and no food wasted.

He’s hoping that, with the Chargers’ help, the program’s numbers can grow exponentially. While the L.A. Kitchen currently serves a few thousand meals each month, he’d like to see that number grow to 15,000 a month in 2018.

“Los Angeles sets the record for these perceived negatives,” Egger says of the number of people in need, “but these men and women can be part of the solution.”

Disco Chop as part of Feedback's Feeding the 5000 campaign in May 2017. Photo by Joseph Nakhost/courtesy of LA Kitchen.

Throughout the 14-week training program, students participate in a variety of culinary training, self-empowerment programs, and local internships. Dynamic lessons from executive chef instructors provide hands-on experience, and nutritionists and social workers help with life skills and professional development.

What makes it particularly special is that youth who have aged out of the foster care system, along with adults who have been incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise in need of work, are able to participate in the program alongside one another, bridging a generational gap, Egger says. Upon graduation, students are able to find placements in internships or jobs in restaurants or businesses around the city or with L.A. Kitchen’s Strong Food arm.

But what does the future hold for feeding those in need — especially as the number of people needing help grows each year? It starts with rethinking sustainable nutrition.

“We have access to a number of beautiful fruits and vegetables, and alternate proteins, that have evolved into incredibly sophisticated products where you can’t tell the difference,” Egger explains. “To serve more meals on a consistent basis, we need to move away from the idea of a four-compartment plate with meat at the center.”

With enough voltage, Egger hopes his disruptive ideas will catch on.

“Food is not just gas for the body,” he says. “There’s power in eating something nutritious. And we can use it to stimulate the economy, and we can use it to create social change.”

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