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Growing the Challah for Hunger Network: A Recipe for Success

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This story comes to us from Challah for Hunger, a not-for profit organization with 70+ active chapters around the globe, mostly based on university campuses, that bakes and sells challah bread and uses the proceeds to support social justice causes.  

Challah for Hunger is celebrating its 10-year anniversary and is, among others, honoring Caryn Roth as a “challah baker and change maker” for her work founding the UCLA chapter and advising other chapters. The celebration will take place October 25-26, 2014 in Los Angeles, CA. For more information and tickets visit: http://challah10.splashthat.com/

Caryn is a data scientist at Zipongo, a digital health company in San Francisco that makes it easy to eat well, even chocolate chip challah.

Bacon Challah? No, that's not a typo.

Welcome to Delaware, Ohio, where my colleagues helped me to organize a challah tasting event for the entire county health department. I was working as a public health fellow for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and challah (not to mention Jews) were foreign to most of my co-workers.

Baking bread, however, is universal, so when I described the sweet, fluffy challah that I made every week in college for the past three years, my colleagues were eager to try it.

I founded the UCLA chapter of the non-profit organization Challah for Hunger during my sophomore year with my best friend Alisa Malki, whose passion for social justice mirrored my own. Both of us had heard about Challah for Hunger at Scripps College, and loved the idea of an organization committed to advocacy and action that revolved around food.

We resolved to form our own chapter and UCLA soon became the third in a network that now extends to 70+ colleges and universities on three continents.

Through Challah for Hunger, we could connect with our local community while tangibly impacting individuals across the world. Baking and selling challah each week, students of all religions and backgrounds came together to raise money and awareness for victims of the genocide in Darfur.

The UCLA chapter has since donated tens of thousands of dollars to impactful programs run by Jewish World Watch that address global health, environmental sustainability and social justice.

Founding UCLA Challah for Hunger was the most meaningful aspect of my undergraduate experience.

The organization was the anchor point of my community and the source of many friendships. As a chapter leader, I honed leadership skills that I now know gave me a strong foundation for my career. Upon graduation, I assumed my involvement in Challah for Hunger would diminish for practical reasons -- moving across the country, starting a new job and no longer being a student.

But a year later, here I am teaching kneading and braiding techniques again, this time to a room of my colleagues in Ohio.

For this activity, I had asked everyone to bring sweet or savory fillings for the challah. Imagine my surprise when a well-intentioned colleague brought bacon, thinking it would be tasty stuffed in the sweet dough.

Taking the opportunity for a quick explanation of kashrut, I still encouraged her to go for it, even if it wasn’t the sort you’d find a typical Shabbat meal. In the taste test that ensued, the bacon challah won the #2 spot, a close runner up to peanut butter and Nutella challah, my personal favorite.

After the tasting, one colleague connected me to the nearby Methodist university, Ohio Wesleyan, where the small but mighty Hillel was interested in starting their own chapter of Challah for Hunger. I was more than eager to help. Because of their small size, the students partnered with other campus organizations, held interfaith bakings and connected to their school and Jewish community through challah.

As an advisor, I had the opportunity to mentor these bright young students through the challenges and accomplishments of launching their own chapter, as well as continue my involvement with the organization I loved.

I helped formally launch the Challah for Hunger chapter advisor program shortly after this experience to connect other Challah for Hunger alums with new chapters forming all over the country. With this network of advisors, we could help new and existing chapters with their leadership boards, baking operations, advocacy and education work, philanthropy and logistics.

From giving pointers on planning challah French toast fests to baking challah at homeless shelters to recipes for pumpkin cinnamon challah (photo above), advising chapters has been nothing short of inspiring. I am continually impressed by the enthusiasm and drive of the students I work with as they explore new and creative ways to engage with challah baking, education and advocacy.

Through the chapter advisor program, Challah for Hunger alums offer guidance and advice and extend the network between chapters. Instead of re-inventing the wheel at each university, students can share best practices, brainstorm about common issues and connect with peers around the country. Our leadership retreats, now held twice per year, offer an opportunity for these students to come together in person, refine skills and connect with the ultimate mission of the organization.

Advising students -- as they lead an organization, strategize for the future and have a blast baking with their friends -- has been almost as fulfilling as founding the UCLA chapter, which seven years later, is still going strong.

Through food and social justice, two anchor points of Jewish culture, Challah for Hunger continues to connect and inspire students to make a difference on their campus, in their local communities and in the broader world.

As we develop meaningful initiatives and expand our network of dedicated individuals, I am continually honored to be part of this incredible organization. I look forward to the next ten years of Challah for Hunger’s evolution and success!

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.