Jewish students at Elon have revived an organization focused on combatting food insecurity locally.
For most students at Elon University, the question of where their next meal will come from is simply a matter of choosing a dining hall or local restaurant. But for the one in seven people in North Carolina for whom hunger is an everyday reality, the question is whether they will eat dinner.
This very real and local problem of food insecurity is the reason why Regan Fleischer ‘20, Ethan Feuer ’19, Amanda Bingaman ’20, and Gillian Zankel, ’22, came together in the fall of 2018 to bring Challah for Hunger back to Elon University’s campus.
“We have so much, which is why it is so important for us to help people who are suffering,” explained Fleischer, who is also co-President of Elon Hillel’s student board. “Challah for Hunger is an amazing opportunity to bring people together, have fun, and give back to the community.”
Challah for Hunger is a national social justice-focused organization with more than 80 chapters across the world, all of which work to build communities inspired and equipped to take action against hunger. In 2018 the organization mobilized more than 10,000 volunteers who came together to bake more than 53,000 loaves of challah and donate almost $160,000 to 164 different local hunger relief organizations and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an international organization.
The renewed chapter at Elon University started the 2018-19 school year strong with three baking and braiding sessions that brought close to 150 students into the Sklut Hillel Center to learn how they can “bake change” and help others while growing stronger as a community.
Amanda Bingaman, ’20, a public health studies major, is very aware of the issues that plague the community surrounding Elon, and wishes that more students were conscious of life outside of campus.
“Challah for Hunger focuses on food insecurity, which can impact anyone regardless of what group you may identify with on campus,” she explained. “Since food insecurity ignores social barriers, we must break down ours to truly understand and combat it. I believe it is especially important that Elon students work with the surrounding community to become aware of and the disparities that exist. Elon is a bubble that borders a food desert in the other part of Burlington.”
In Alamance County, where Elon is located, 22 percent of children live in food insecure homes. As a state, North Carolina has the 8th-highest rate of food insecurity in the nation. Statistics show that over 15 percent of people in Alamance County and 18 percent of people in neighboring Guilford County are food insecure, well above the national average. Even more startling, 80 percent of North Carolina households who are food insecure have children with no food and no idea where it will come from.
“These numbers speak to how severe the situation is,” said Ethan Feuer. “Elon students are in a position of privilege. Unfortunately, it is notable when our students reach out, and when they actively show that they care about our local community. And it shouldn’t be that way.”
So Challah for Hunger’s leaders are determined to give back, and to help galvanize their campus into action.
The proceeds they earn from the sales of the challah they bake, subsidized by Elon Hillel, goes directly to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC, which provides food, nutrition education services, tools for effective advocacy and more.
But the Challah for Hunger team knows that to engage students in this important work, it also needs to be fun.
“There are definitely people on campus who feel that passion to get involved with a great cause,” Feuer said. “I remember the first time I came to Challah for Hunger my freshman year. It was a great group of cool people, hanging out and talking and listening to music, and it was just a wholesome experience with a great vibe. But more than that, I knew that I was able to have a real impact on people right here in our community while I was having a great time.”
Amanda Bingaman agreed. “I always loved doing Challah for Hunger as a first year because it allowed me to meet new people in a relaxed setting," Bingaman said. "This type of event tends to bring together people from different groups on campus and I really like that it promotes an inclusive environment, because you don’t need to be Jewish to get involved.”
As Feuer, Bingaman, Fleischer and Zankel see it, Challah for Hunger embodies all the values of Elon Hillel, Elon’s Jewish student organization, which provides a lively, welcoming, and meaningful Jewish experience on campus.
“Students here are passionate about making the world a better place," Fleischer said. "Elon Hillel in particular has an extremely supportive staff who are willing to help students with anything that they need. There is a sense of community that makes participating in social justice so worthwhile.”
But for Feuer, it’s more than just a college experience. He grew up seeing his mother in a volunteer leadership role for an organization called Knead for Feed which, like Challah for Hunger, donates 100 percent of its net proceeds to help feed the hungry.
“I may have been young, but knowing how important it is to give back to the local community was an important part of my childhood,” Feuer said. “Now, as a senior in college, I knew it was my time to step up to lead Challah for Hunger. Not only are we making a real difference, but it is a social experience of the best kind, where you can bring a friend, meet a friend, or make a friend. Because everyone is welcome to come and bake a difference with us.”