It’s not in the headlines every day, especially during campaign season, but the numbers are startling: As of 2017, roughly one in eight U.S. residents was food insecure, meaning 40 million people — including more than 12 million children — did not have regular access to sufficient food to maintain an active healthy life.
The scale of the problem is vast, but a new local partnership aims to make a dent. The Kaiserman Jewish Community Center in Wynnewood has partnered with Challah for Hunger on a pilot program to increase people’s access to food.
Challah for Hunger was formed in 2004 as a college campus-based program in response to food insecurity among students. According to a Temple University study, 36% of U.S. students attending four-year universities and colleges face food insecurity, as do up to 67% at community colleges.
The nonprofit’s Campus Hunger Project has student volunteers at more than 80 college chapters across the U.S., Canada, Australia and England who get together to bake challah. The bread is then sold and the funds are donated in an even split between the nonprofit MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and a local nonprofit fighting hunger in each chapter’s community.
Locally, there’s a Challah for Hunger chapter at Temple, and two more area campus chapters are slated to launch this fall, though the locations have not yet been announced.
Three years ago, Challah for Hunger launched an off-campus program that brings the same model of baking and fundraising into nonprofits and Jewish institutions, but focuses on helping teens, families and young adults with physical and developmental disabilities join the fight.
Now Challah for Hunger is bringing its model to JCCs, and Kaiserman will join five others — three in California, one in Chicago and one in Dallas — in the pilot program.
“We’re really happy to be at the ground floor, learning along with our partner organization and giving feedback that can help grow and strengthen the program,” Kaiserman CEO Amy Krulik said. “The issues of food insecurity are both near and dear to my heart, both personally and professionally. And I know that making challah and creating opportunities for the community to come together is really the hallmark of the JCC’s role in our community.”
Kaiserman will host its first challah-baking workshop in September. The JCC must host at least four events as part of the program, but Krulik said they can host as many as needed. The first workshop will teach people how to make and braid challah, just in time for Rosh Hashanah.
“I’ve done a number of challah bakes before,” Krulik said. “It’s really fun to do with friends.”
Francesca Lo Basso, director of development, communications and strategy at Challah for Hunger, said the nonprofit looks forward to working with the Kaiserman JCC. Philadelphia is home to Challah for Hunger’s national headquarters, so working with a local JCC was exciting, Lo Basso said. The expansion will also allow the organization and the JCC to reach a different volunteer demographic.
“People come to us because they feel like they can make a meaningful impact in their communities fighting hunger doing this work,” Lo Basso said. “Community baking and braiding challah together, in of itself, is encouraging and brings people together.”
Challah for Hunger Chief Operating Officer Loren Shatten said it’s the hard work of volunteers that makes the nonprofit possible. Given that JCCs are volunteer leaders in the community, she expects the new program to be a success. Moving forward, the plan is to evaluate and refine the effectiveness of the partnership model and potentially expand to other JCCs as well.
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