Challah for Hunger On the Rise

For 30% of our Jewish volunteers, we are proud to be their first Jewish experience on campus.

By Carly Zimmerman

Last month, I had the privilege of celebrating Challah for Hunger’s 10th anniversary, gathering with students, alumni, friends and our founder, Eli Winkelman, to look back at the organization’s incredible achievements.

With more than 70 chapters around the world, we’ve engaged 7,000 student leaders, raised $600,000 for social justice causes and baked 200,000 loaves of challah. We’ve been honored by President Bill Clinton in his book “Giving: How each of us can change the world,” named one of the most innovative Jewish organizations in North America by Slingshot four times, and partnered with American Jewish World Service to educate thousands about the genocide in Darfur.

I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the past, not only because it’s fun to take a trip down memory lane, but also because it helps me plan Challah for Hunger’s future.

Last June, I became Challah for Hunger’s CEO, following our founder, Eli Winkelman (“Challah for Hunger through the eyes of a transitioning founder”). From the time I stepped into the role of CEO, the question I’ve been asked most often is, “What’s next for Challah for Hunger?”

As I continue to develop our strategic roadmap for the next 10 years and beyond, one thing is certain: our future will be informed by our past. We’ve learned so much during the past 10 years, and I am committed to charting our path based on these lessons. To determine what’s next for us, I rely on the three distinct principles that define our impact:

1. It’s not about the challah

When encountering Challah for Hunger on campus, challah will no doubt be the first thing you see, smell or taste, but if you spend some time talking with student volunteers, you’ll soon realize that it’s not really about the challah.

For 30% of our Jewish volunteers, we are proud to be their first Jewish experience on campus. What’s more, 95% of our participants plan to continue their involvement in a Jewish group or activity after college, often pursuing a career in Jewish social justice work or volunteering with organizations like AVODAH: Jewish Service Corps or Repair the World.

For these students, challah is simply the catalyst – for conversations, leadership development and collective giving.

As our evaluations show us: 63% of participants volunteer with the challah community 2-5 times a month, and as a result of their involvement, 64.5% of have increased or greatly increased awareness of social justice issues; 90% feel they have a regular practice of giving and 99% are more likely to donate to charitable causes.

Indeed, Challah is an entry point to coming together as a community to affect change while developing long-lasting friendships and engaging in self-discovery that lead to a deeper understanding of the responsibilities of tikkun olam and tzedakah.

Recently, we’ve focused our energy on exploring how challah can inspire change and educate communities about the other half of our organization’s name: hunger. In August, we announced a new partnership with MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. Half of every chapter’s profits will now go to support hunger education and advocacy.

2. Grassroots at heart

While we’ve grown into a nonprofit organization, we are a grassroots movement at heart.

Challah for Hunger spread to 70 chapters entirely through word of mouth. Students find Challah for Hunger, either through a friend, sibling or neighbor, and adopt the model, adding their own unique flavor to the mix. We receive at least one new request to start a chapter every week during the school year.

This not only applies to our chapters, but also to our expanding alumni network. Whether it’s organizing an alumni networking event for 25 people, participating in an Alumni Giving Circle in partnership with Amplifier Giving: The Jewish Giving Circle Movement, or serving on the Challah for Hunger Board of Directors, our alumni continue to take ownership over their experience.

In 2012, a group of alumni recognized the need for increased chapter support and created the Chapter Advisor program. Using their own experiences, these alumni mentored new chapter leaders, providing the much-needed individualized support. Today, the Chapter Advisor program includes 26 alumni who support our 70+ chapters through in-person visits, monthly phone calls, and emails with helpful resources and words of encouragement.

3. Fun, dedicated and welcoming

At the end of the school year, we ask every chapter: “What words best describe your chapter?” Without fail, the top three answers are always: fun, dedicated and welcoming.

When I speak with our students, they share they look forward to volunteering every week because it offers a chance to de-stress after class, hang out with friends and have fun. This fun is coupled with incredible dedication. It’s not easy to lead a chapter. Volunteers take on hours of responsibility every week, managing dozens of members, shopping for ingredients, overseeing baking sessions and coordinating sales and financial logistics. Despite the long hours, our volunteers get involved and stay involved, often participating in Challah for Hunger for two or more years throughout college.

I’m most proud of our volunteers for creating a welcoming experience for Jews and non-Jews alike. While baking challah and tikkun olam are firmly rooted in Jewish tradition, baking bread and giving back are universal values. 25% of our volunteers are not Jewish and we are honored to expose Jewish ideas and traditions in a positive and engaging manner while encourage interfaith and intercultural exchange.

So, what’s next for Challah for Hunger?

We will continue to bring people together through challah baking, inspiring communities to make a difference. We are currently working with 16 new chapters to bring Challah for Hunger to new campuses and look forward to expanding our impact to new communities around the world.

Challah for Hunger will continue celebrating a decade of challah bakers and change makers with events in Austin, TX on March 28, 2015 and Philadelphia, PA on May 9, 2015. Visit www.challahforhunger.org for event details and updates on chapters.