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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Challah for Hunger: Addressing food insecurity one loaf at a time

Tufts Hillel program bakes and sells challah for charity.

Courtesy Tufts Hillel

Students pictured with loaves baked by Challah for Hunger.

Every other Thursday, the kitchen of the Tufts Hillel building is bustling with dough-makers, braiders and bakers alike, all helping to bake about 70 loaves of challah to be sold for charity through Challah for Hunger, a philanthropic program organized by Hillel.

Challah for Hunger aims to ameliorate food insecurity in the Greater Boston area and beyond. Co-chairs Elijah Fraiman and Corey Title spoke to the Daily about the production process behind making challah, a Jewish sweet bread that is often eaten to celebrate Shabbat.

A number of challah varieties are sold in each batch, with the program adding new flavors through the years. Right now, they sell chocolate chip, sweet crumb, everything bagel, cinnamon sugar and plain.

“Sometimes we'll change it up a little bit, add a new flavor. … We added sweet crumb at the beginning of this semester,” Fraiman said. “Since the Tufts Hillel kitchen is kosher, all of the challahs are kosher, but also dairy free.”

The production process is intensive and requires nearly an entire afternoon to complete.

For most people, [the baking process] begins at 3 p.m.,” Title said. “We make the dough from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., let it rise from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., well braid it, and we‘ll let the braided challahs rise from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. [From] 7 p.m. until [the] end of [the] night, we’ll egg wash them, put toppings on them, cook them and then sell them fresh out of the oven if people want to come early and buy them.”

The following morning, the team will sell challah out of the Campus Center for just $5 a loaf. They open at 10 a.m. and sell until 1 p.m. — or until they’ve sold out. Their loaves are purchased by a myriad of customers, including both regulars and newcomers.

Students, community members, prospective parents, prospective students, just sort of anyone who might be in the [Mayer Campus Center]and interested in buying a challah can and sometimes do buy, which is really cool,” Fraiman said.

While the program previously had a presence at Tufts Hillel before the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was revamped by Title during the spring 2023 semester. Since then, Challah for Hunger has significantly grown in scale, enabling Hillel to donate even more money to those in need. Title elaborated on the success of the program in the spring 2023 semester:

We made about 100 loaves of challah and donated about 300 to 400 dollars,” Title said.

In terms of how successful the program has been as of late, Fraiman expressed his pride regarding what they have managed to accomplish.

We’ve baked 487 loaves of challah,” Fraiman said. “We’re very proud to say that we’ve donated $2,200 so far this year.”

As the name suggests, Challah for Hunger focuses on reducing hunger, particularly in and around Boston.

The name of the game is food insecurity,” Fraiman said. “The [charity] we’re donating to mostly is called Family Table, which is a kosher food pantry for people in the Boston area.”

The chairs of the program determine which charities demonstrate the most need and make donations accordingly. All proceeds go towards food pantries and other hunger-reduction organizations.

The charitable efforts of the program are undeniably productive, but the positive impacts of the club do not end with philanthropy. The club also promotes a strong sense of community, garnering numerous volunteers, many of whom come in regularly for the challah baking process.

It’s really nice that you get to make friends and have community while doing something good and making a difference,” Title said. “And, at the end, you also get a good product.”

Currently, the club consists of approximately 40 volunteers. Because of the nature of a step-by-step baking process, volunteers will usually come for different shifts. However, rather than leaving after completing their tasks, many participants stay in the Hillel building throughout the evening to chat with their peers, highlighting the tight-knit nature of the community.

At the end of the night …  [you] see 20 people just hanging out at the bottom floor of the Hillel building, just talking and having fun, and it’s really cute,” Title said.

Lizzy Osinski, Mandy Vendittis and Mia Spiegel, social media managers for the program, spoke about the strong community forged among regular attendees, with each emphasizing their love for the process.

It’s very therapeutic, and I love spending time with friends as I braid challah,” Spiegel said.

Vendittis expressed a similar sentiment, adding that the charitable aspect of the organization makes the experience all the more worthwhile.  

I love braiding [challah],” Vendittis said. “It’s good knowing that you're doing something that actually is giving back.

The outreach work through platforms such as Instagram has proven to be especially rewarding for Osinski, as it helps grow the program.

My favorite thing about Challah for Hunger is running the social media account,” Osinski said. “It’s really fun to advertise and get more people involved.”

Many members of the program hope to recruit new bakers and sellers, which would help increase the amount of challah produced.

I think that more people should join. It’s a great community, and if the club expands, we can make even more challahs and more proceeds can be given back to the community to reduce hunger,” Spiegel said.

Challah for Hunger is an inclusive organization that accepts any and all volunteers willing to bake. Notably, you do not have to be Jewish in order to participate in the program, something Fraiman emphasized.

Challah for Hunger operates under Hillel, but no experience in baking challah is required. You don’t have to be Jewish. You don’t have to have ever eaten challah or even seen it to come,” Fraiman said. “We’d love to have anyone who’s interested.”

At the end of the day, the community service aspect of Challah for Hunger proves integral to the program’s appeal.

We’re really happy with the success we’ve had so far,” Fraiman said. “We’re really proud of the impact we've had both on building community, but also the fact that this money is … not just going to someone's pocket, it’s going to charity to help feed people in need.”