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A Loaf Sold, a Stomach Fed

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Student organization sells traditional Jewish bread to help raise money for charity

If there’s something Stanford students will support without hesitation, it is probably food. Carbohydrates are even better. This perhaps explains how Challah for Hunger, providing bread in a variety of flavors to the masses, has found its niche on campus.

Challah for Hunger, an organization started at the Claremont colleges, now has chapters at universities around the country, all of which bake and sell challah each week, donating their proceeds to charity. Challah, a Jewish bread eaten on the Sabbath and holidays, is customarily braided, a tradition Challah for Hunger keeps.

A little less orthodox in their choice of challah flavors, its challah loaves can be anywhere from plain and poppy seed to chocolate chip, olive rosemary or, recently, pumpkin. The chocolate chip loaves are especially popular, selling out quickly at the group’s stand at Tresidder on Fridays or even by Thursday nights, when they emerge from the oven.

The Stanford chapter of Challah for Hunger was co-founded by seniors Helen Helfand and Eva Orbuch during the spring of their sophomore year. Orbuch had worked with the UC-Los Angeles chapter’s head at a summer camp and she was inspired to start a Stanford group.

“It seems that while in the Jewish community there was an emphasis on social justice, there were no concrete opportunities for service,” she said.  “I wanted to provide that for the Jewish community and the wider community.”

“As the social action chair for the JSA [Jewish Students Association], I had been searching for a way to get lots of Jewish students at Stanford involved in social action,” Helfand added. “Up to that point I had organized a few events, but they mostly attracted the same small crowd, and I really wanted to create something that the whole community was excited about.”

Originally baking at Columbae and selling in White Plaza, Challah for Hunger has shifted to the Hillel kitchen and Tresidder as it has expanded from a tiny, grassroots start.

“We’re officially under the JSA, who subsidizes our ingredient costs…so that all our profits can go to charity,” Orbuch said. “Hillel has also been really supportive in lending us their kitchens and the space.”

And as the endeavor has grown, more space has become necessary for a much-expanded group.

“We started with 40 loaves every week and now we bake 160,” Orbuch said. “The pre-ordering system has allowed us to bake in greater volume, as many Row houses and dorms will order a big batch with kitchen funds.”

Although Challah for Hunger may sell baked goods for charity, Orbuch said, “We are not just a bake sale.” Half of the proceeds each week go to Challah for Hunger’s national cause, the American Jewish World Service’s Darfur initiative, while the other half of the proceeds go to various charities in the area or around the globe. But Orbuch emphasizes the group’s advocacy component as well.

“We have opportunities for political advocacy at the selling table every week, and we’re hoping to ramp up this aspect of the organization,” she said. “People are interested in our product, but we are also about education and raising awareness.” She mentioned collaboration with Stanford STAND and possible work with the Stanford Project on Hunger and Dance Marathon.

Volunteer coordination Ali McInnis ’13 deals with the challenges of producing 160 loaves of bread every Thursday.

“It’s a lot more work than I thought,” she said. “To make so many loaves you need a lot of people, and the time it takes can depend on how much people know about baking, and whether they’re there to work or just chill.”

“It’s difficult because no one gets paid or has an incentive to do it, so we’re a social group that has to run a bit like a business,” she continued. “We have responsibilities to our customers, especially as we are switching to pre-selling rather than pre-ordering, so we cannot give people the wrong type; they’ve already paid.”

Stanford’s chapter has found a creative way to work around the problem of lack of volunteers by having student groups co-sponsor on many weeks. These groups can choose the charity to which half the profits go in exchange for helping out with baking and selling. Past co-sponsors have included various fraternities, Project Love, FAITH and STAND.

Stanford’s Challah for Hunger is considering donating its profits that do not go to AJWS to a local organization on a regular basis, as many other chapters do.

McInnis’s volunteer base comes from the entire Stanford community, not just Jewish students. She emphasizes this interfaith component.

“I myself am not Jewish, and got involved last year in a co-sponsoring event,” she said. “I think this is a different type of service, which emphasizes education and advocacy as well. It’s also interesting for people to learn about challah and its traditional use in Judaism.”

Orbuch agrees that Challah for Hunger’s popularity is not religiously exclusive.

“People come because it’s fun, and community building. We like doing thing with our hands and it’s a chance to bake that you don’t get if you don’t live in a co-op or Row house,” she said.

And although the social action and interaction draw volunteers and buyers alike, an even greater appeal lies in the bread itself.

“There is a huge desire on campus for fresh-baked challah,” Helfand said.  “Buying a loaf definitely makes you the most popular person in the dorm.”

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