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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Challah for Hunger Tackles Campus Food Insecurity

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Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Contributing Writer at the Jewish Journal. She previously was the Founding Editor at GrokNation.com. She is an experienced freelance writer and consultant specializing in social media, pop culture, grief and Jewish community conversation. She is frequently sought-after as a source on social media engagement and culture, and is known as a Jewish community social influencer.

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Esther D. Kustanowitz
Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Contributing Writer at the Jewish Journal. She previously was the Founding Editor at GrokNation.com. She is an experienced freelance writer and consultant specializing in social media, pop culture, grief and Jewish community conversation. She is frequently sought-after as a source on social media engagement and culture, and is known as a Jewish community social influencer.

To fight the growing problem of food insecurity on university campuses, nonprofit organization Challah for Hunger has mobilized a cohort of eight student volunteers to learn from experts and develop and implement campus-specific test programs to feed students in need. The eight students leading the project come from seven schools: USC, UC Davis, the State University of New York at Binghamton, the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia, Temple University and the University of Wisconsin (which has two student representatives).

Challah for Hunger also recently released a report on campus hunger, with data gleaned from interviews conducted by student volunteers at 22 colleges and universities between August 2016 and May 2017. During the interviews, approximately 80 percent of administrators said food insecurity was a problem on their campus, but 65 percent said there was no official campuswide policy addressing food insecurity.

Those who participate in the cohort do so in addition to their volunteer commitments to the local chapters of Challah for Hunger, which has mobilized students as campus activists since its founding by Eli Winkelman at Scripps College in 2004. Now, at 80 student-led, college-based chapters in 30 U.S. states, the United Kingdom and Australia, students bake and sell challah. Fifty percent of profits are donated to local anti-hunger organizations, and the other half goes toward Challah for Hunger’s national and philanthropic education partner, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. To date, Challah for Hunger has raised and donated over $1 million to these causes.

Approximately 80 percent of administrators said food insecurity was a problem on their campus.

“There are three core values that unite members of the cohort: education, advocacy and philanthropy,” said Talia Berday Sacks, Challah for Hunger’s director of campus programs. With each campus having different needs, the student training is “an opportunity to home in on what it means to be an advocate for yourself and your peers. As a result of participating in the Campus Hunger Project, students feel more prepared to address important social issues like hunger. This is so important, in a time of political uncertainty, that our student activists can find their voices and be a force for positive change.”

The students learn about how campus hunger is tied to other social justice issues, like affordability and diversity, and are empowered to look at their own campuses and make a difference. For example, Rachel Kartin, a senior who represents USC in the cohort, said, “One of the greatest issues is lack of awareness by a lot of the students,” explaining that despite a perception that USC students are affluent, many are food insecure. To address this, the school has a Virtual Food Pantry that provides gift cards to Trader Joe’s and three ‘Grab-and-Go’ food pantries. Kartin aims to raise awareness even further.

“There’s been important work already,” Berday Sacks said. “We don’t want them rebuilding the wheel. We want them to connect with the right networks: financial aid, student affairs, administration.”

Kartin, for example, is working with a university government representative to craft a blurb that professors can use on their syllabi, “to increase awareness of hunger and food insecurity without embarrassing people,” as Kartin said, noting that a statement about disability awareness is already on syllabi to enable students with special needs to have those needs met.

“Before this became standard, it was probably something people were embarrassed about,” Kartin said. “I’m hoping to do something everyone can see. I’m hoping to start with the professors that I know and hopefully it will spread.”

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