Robert Egger: A Hunger Fighter You Should Know
I got lost in D.C. looking for Robert Egger. I’m accustomed to Kansas roads laid out in simple 4-mile square grids. Fly over Kansas and you see a checkerboard; fly over DC and you see several wagon wheels.
I finally found my way down an alley and through a loading dock into the largest homeless shelter in D.C. Winding my way through bustling bodies loading trucks, I was pointed to a plain block wall with a plain metal door. I was now at D.C. Central Kitchens (DCCK) that Robert founded in 1989.
We were given a tour through the cramped labyrinth of an industrial kitchen shoved into a space far too small to be able to produce tens of thousands of meals each week. Formerly homeless people were dressed in chef’s hats and aprons bustled around in frenzied, but deliberate, activity. The freezers were packed full, the storage areas had each small little inch filled, and every stove, table, pot, and pan had something cooking in it. One chef taught an apprentice how to artistically carve vegetables.
After the tour, we were seated in a small room with a table and a few chairs. I sat nervously with my son, Caleb, waiting for THE Robert Egger -who had been named in the “Top 50 Most Powerful and Influential Nonprofit Leaders” from 2006-2009. I had just finished his award winning book Begging for Change. On the wall was a photo of President Bush and Robert. I was getting ready to meet with perhaps the most revolutionary nonprofit leader in the U.S. who won the James Beard Foundation’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award, an Oprah Angel Network “Use Your Life” award and the Caring Institute’s national “Caring Award.” He was also named one of the “Real Sexiest Men Alive” in Oprah’s Magazine in 2006. The list goes on.
Guys like Robert are my heroes. He was a successful businessman with one of the most popular restaurants and nightclubs in D.C. One day, he got roped into feeding hungry people then walking home from his club later, he noticed all the unused food from restaurants being tossed out. He decided to create a way to reclaim food destined for the dump to be turned into healthy meals for the hungry and, along the way, invent a way for homeless people to learn culinary skills so they could become self-sufficient. Thus began the amazing DCCK.
People who work in nonprofits are some of the most compassionate people I know but are sometimes are plagued with “do-gooderism.” They see a hurting person and will do whatever they can to meet that need. While that is a great motivation, it is often the downfall of a nonprofit who is so busy trying to do good, they forget that a nonprofit still has to be run like a business- you need more money coming in than goes out; what makes a non-profit different than a for-profit is that no shareholders benefit from the profit.
Businessmen, like Robert, who become non-profit leaders, bring a breath of fresh air to do-gooderism. They understand, at the end of the day, you have to run a nonprofit like a business. You can’t do any good if you don’t have any money in the bank.
Another initiative Robert and DCCK started was Campus Kitchens. Located on 33 college campuses across America, they recovered 407,905 pounds of food and prepared 252,672 meals in 2012!
Robert is famous for saying there are no profits without nonprofits. Although the nonprofit sector is the third biggest industry in the U.S. behind military and banking, often the economic impact of nonprofits is barely recognized. He founded CForward to encourage politicians at various levels to make the nonprofit sector part of their campaigns.
After years of rocking the east coast with his wildly successful endeavors, Robert recently moved to the west coast to start the L.A. Kitchens. In a reoccurring theme throughout his endeavors, Robert will build sustainable systems that feed the hungry and restore human dignity.
I was nervous when I met him and was like the drunken drummer on the movie “That Thing You Do,” who said something stupid like, “You’re my biggest fan!” Robert told me that when he was starting out, some folks didn’t consider him worth their time and that he purposed to always find a time to meet with anyone who wanted a meeting.
The next time I see Robert, it will most likely be in Wichita, Kansas, as he keynotes the 4th Annual Kansas Hunger Dialogue on Feb. 26, 2014. I doubt he’ll get lost on the way from the airport to the hotel; the road is straight as an arrow and covered in yellow bricks.
But Wichita, and Kansas, and hungry people will never be the same again.
You can follow him on Twitter: @rickmcnary or read his personal blog: www.rickmcnary.me