challah for hunger hits campus
On Thursdays and Fridays at the quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a table has quietly blinked into existence. A hand-made felt banner serves as a name-tag: Challah for Hunger. Every two hours on the hour, a new pair of Jewish students approaches the table to relieve those who had been on duty. Passer-bys stop frequently on their way to class, often just to ask “What’s challah?” while the bold and hungry will snag a free sample. Every so often, a sale is made, and the transaction is warm and friendly. In what can sometimes be a large, impersonal campus, the Challah for Hunger table has formed an oasis of philanthropic spirit and camaraderie among its volunteers.
What’s the secret?
Enter Lauren Braun, founder of Challah for Hunger (CfH) on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus and designated Sam’s Club ingredients shopper. Braun started Challah for Hunger on campus after hearing about it through its competition in an online voting contest that would award a grant to the winning charity. The more Braun looked into it, the more she thought CfH would be a great fit on a campus with over 3,000 Jewish students, many connected through Greek houses.
“I thought my friends might want to help, and if we could get Hillel to let us use their kitchen, it’d be perfect.” Lauren said.
Lauren had no idea how right she was. In just five weeks, with the help of Hillel’s mashgiach (a student who certified the Challah was kosher), CfH had stepped up production from 20 challahs a week to over 150. They had a website, over twenty volunteers, an extensive preorder system, and an executive board. When asked about how CfH has been so successful, Braun doesn’t hesitate.
“I think the key to our success is how basic our idea is. It’s just a bake sale, but it’s turned into a lot more because we have consistent volunteers coming and a product that is in demand week after week, it’s not just for a specific holiday… Lots of my volunteers I was friends with which was a big factor. I think it’s fun – I don’t think they’d do it if they weren’t enjoying the process.”
Braun went to Texas with her friend, Rita Botbol, for a CfH convention, where she learned about how to start up a CfH on campus. While volunteers were hard to come by at first, Braun’s friends soon caught on that making challah could be fun.
“I like coming in,” longtime volunteer Adam Sturt said. “It’s a laid-back atmosphere and I can come and go whenever I want. I stop in every week.”
There is a way for everyone to contribute. Some posted updates on their Facebook or Twitter to advertise for the days CfH would be selling on the quad. Others, like Sturt, came in to help bake or sell the Challah. While the process has been a smooth one, Lauren points out that starting up a club like Challah for Hunger isn’t something to take lightly.
“I started shopping for the dough, 2 hours in the morning and baking for another 4 hours at night, and then selling all day on Thursday. I was the one who went and got all the ingredients at Sam’s club, and solicited donations from Sam’s Club and WalMart… I had to look up online how to write grant letters.” Lauren said.
But through a google doc to track volunteers and by taking advantage of her built-in network of friends, Braun was able to ease the workload off herself as the semester went on. Challah for Hunger will continue to grow without her, as Braun is studying abroad in Paris next semester.
To date, UIUC’s Challah for Hunger has sold close to 600 challahs and raised over $2000 for the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. This is a lot to come from a simple email. Perhaps the most striking aspect to CfH’s success is how it came without any specialized knowledge or skills. Through simple organization, networking with friends, and a passion for social justice, Lauren has taken CfH from an idea to a recognizable force on campus.
“A lot of people have brought Challah home to their parents and I see moms who come up to me and say, ‘We tried your challah!’”
And others are jumping on the Challah train, too.
“Indiana wants to start and we’re meeting with them over winter break.” Braun said.
For those thinking of starting a nonprofit club on their campus, five minutes watching friends cook Challah together or joke around while tabelling on the Quad should be an indicator of the rewards to be had. As Lauren sums it up,
“It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve done in college.”