A group of students dressed in beige aprons, decorated colorfully with their names and the words "Challah for Hunger," gather around the Hillel kitchen like they do every week. They sample challah they baked earlier that day as an experiment as they divide up tasks. One student is in charge of the chocolate chip challah station; another takes over the cinnamon sugar flavor.
Challah for Hunger is a national non-profit organization founded in 2004 to raise money to alleviate poverty. It has spread to many college campuses across the country. Each chapter donates half of its profits to American Jewish World Service and half to a local organization.
Northwestern University's chapter is beginning its fifth year. Alexis Leon, a senior at Northwestern and president of Challah for Hunger, said the group is avidly continuing its efforts to increase sales, volunteer commitment, and its presence in the Evanston and Northwestern communities. Leon said last year NU's chapter raised more than $4,000, half of which went to the American Jewish World Service Sudan Relief and Advocacy fund and half to "Soup at Six," a local soup kitchen.
Both Jewish and non-Jewish students meet every Wednesday and Thursday at Hillel to prepare and bake challah. Each week they make between 12 and 14 batches of dough, resulting in about 100 challahs to sell. The challah is for sale online or at Hillel for $5 each. The regular flavors are plain, chocolate chip, and cinnamon sugar. A recent flavor of the week was peanut butter oreo.
Stephanie Kaufman, a sophomore at Northwestern and vice president of Special Events for the chapter, found that Challah for Hunger offered her the Jewish community she needed but also gave her the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah of tikkun olam (repairing the world) for people who don't share her faith.
"It was important for me to find a Jewish connection here at school," Kaufman said. "While we sell our challah to anyone, it does have the Jewish background."
Aside from donating all of its profits to its two beneficiaries, NU Challah for Hunger has paired with other groups on campus to help make a difference. For the past two years, the group donated challah to Northwestern University Dance Marathon and has collaborated with Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity on one of their fundraising events.
Leon has big plans for the future.
"What we want to start doing this year is having Challah for Hunger and Hillel students volunteer at the soup kitchen," Leon said. "I saw this really awesome program that Hillel had and I thought that we could just make it bigger and better here."
Leon and the rest of the group are already seeing improvement. The number of active volunteers has grown from 8 to 10 last year to 25 to 30 showing up each week this year.
Carly Shagrin, a sophomore at Northwestern and vice president of Marketing for Challah for Hunger, had eaten challah all her life but made it for the first time when she came to college. She said she has loved her experience with the organization and hopes more people become aware of its purpose.
"I think that a lot of people at Northwestern aren't really aware of what Challah for Hunger is doing," Shagrin said. "The fact that we're donating half of our proceeds to an international organization and half to one here in Evanston is showing how a problem across the world isn't just a problem across the world. It's also right here in our backyard."
Ellie Friedmann is a sophomore studying Journalism and Spanish at Northwestern University.
The Hillels of Illinois is part of the department of Campus Affairs and Student Engagement at Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund and a partner of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.