If matzah is the bread of affliction, challah is the bread of…what? That’s what I wondered to myself when I started researching, during Passover, no less, Challah for Hunger (CfH), a growing social justice organization started at Scripps College in 2004 by then-student Eli Winkleman, which became a registered nonprofit in 2009 and is now headquartered in Philadelphia.
According to Ana Mendelson, who grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, attending Congregation Olam Tikvah and is now a college senior and current University of Virginia Chapter President, “Challah is the bread of getting people excited to stop hunger and engaging in that process, no matter where they are in life.” Talia Berday-Sacks, former University of Maryland Chapter President and current Program Associate with CfH, offered simply, “Challah is the bread of reflection.” She went on to explain that CfH volunteers often begin by examining questions such as: What is challah? When and why is it eaten? Expanding beyond the tradition of challah, a seemingly commonplace bread, to the questions it brings up about community and food helps start important conversations at CfH chapters.
Hunger has unfortunately become all too common in our communities, and Challah for Hunger is working with young people to become agents of change in exponential ways. While each of the over 70 chapters around the world (in the US, the UK and Australia) is unique, the mission remains the same on each campus: to raise funds for local and global hunger relief organizations as well as awareness of the issue and its root causes. Community, philanthropy and advocacy are Challah for Hunger’s three core pillars, and the organization hopes to encourage college students to think critically and long-term about food advocacy.
So how does it work? While each chapter is different, Mendelson shared with me that at UVA, volunteers come together every Tuesday for two hours of dough making. The following day, some of the same volunteers, as well as a few others, braid and add flavors to the challah. Some flavors, such as the seasonally popular pumpkin, are more labor intensive due to the piping process involved.
The challot can be either pre-ordered or purchased directly on the UVA campus on Thursdays and at local Congregation Beth Israel. The chapter currently produces approximately 150 challot a week with dry ingredients, such as flour and sugar, donated by Albemarle Baking Company, also in Charlottesville, VA.
Once the challah is sold, the profits are split equally between global organization MAZON and the UVA chapter’s local Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. In the DC area, the American University chapter donates its local half of profits to Thrive DC, while the UMD chapter has partnered with DC Central Kitchen. In addition to addressing immediate hunger needs, all of these organizations offer wrap-around services for their clients and have a holistic approach to tackling hunger head-on while also seeking to eradicate it. Together, the UVA, UMD, Towson University and American University Challah for Hunger chapters have raised more than $9,000 for local and national hunger relief causes.
Many students connect to Challah for Hunger’s mission because they’re looking for a different kind of experience—one of advocacy for a bigger cause that holds personal meaning for them. The organization offers an opportunity to examine these questions in a fun, relaxing and hands-on setting with clear goals: raising funds, quantifying how those funds help those in need and getting others involved in advocacy around hunger issues.
Interestingly, at UVA about 40 percent of the volunteers are not Jewish. What a beautiful way to share values and work toward a common goal of eradicating hunger! Breaking bread has brought diverse people together for generations, so why not braid bread for change?
Visit Challah for Hunger’s website to learn more and/or donate.
Top photo: Challah for Hunger at University of Maryland. (All photos courtesy of Challah for Hunger.)