By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Avi Goldstein at Northwestern University joins other Jewish students in a weekly volunteer challah bake and sale that raises funds for local food pantries and awareness of hunger on college campuses.
They represent a chapter of Challah for Hunger, a national organization that trains leaders and supports long lasting policy changes that will end food insecurity on college campuses. More than 10,000 youth are annually involved in food justice activism through 85 student-led, college-based chapters spanning 29 states.
The organization’s new incoming board chairman is Chicagoan Andy Kirschner. He has more than 10 years of experience combining coaching, facilitation and humor to engage diverse communities of leaders, so they are equipped to impact social change.
“Andy brings many great perspectives and skills to our growing organization,” said Carly Zimmerman, CEO of Philadelphia-based Challah for Hunger. “As a professional coach, he really understands how to motivate and guide people to achieve their goals and brings practical experience from his work with college students and alumni and within the Jewish community for many years.”
The Hyde Park resident got his start as the PresenTense Coordinator for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. There he helped to launch a successful fellowship for Jewish entrepreneurs with bright ideas for communal change. Also, during his time in the nation’s capital, he combined his passion for social justice and community organizing skills to help Jews United for Justice win multiple campaigns for social change in Maryland. An alumnus of Grand Valley State University in Michigan as well as the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, he continues this work in Chicago as a volunteer with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. He is also active with Rodfei Zedek where he helps plan family programming.
Kirschner held a fundraiser at his home in Hyde Park for Challahs for Hunger. “The organization,” he said, “has really felt a strong need and desire because of the growing challenges of hunger on college campuses to return to our advocacy roots. We train the leaders, these college students as community leaders to advocate for the cause.”
He said he was drawn to the organization because of the people. “I stayed because the cause was inspiring.”
The money that the students are raising is from challah sales. Five percent goes to the national organization. The remaining funds are donated to Mazon: a Jewish Response to Hunger and to The Ark, a charitable organization that supports Jews in the Chicago area with food and other services.
On a simple level, Goldstein finds the challah baking and sales “a way to decompress with people during the week. We’re not talking about classes. We’re just getting together and doing something good,” said Goldstein, a junior who is studying film and Holocaust and genocide studies.
Lauren Orlofsky founded a Challah for Hunger chapter at University of Illinois at Urbana- Champagne in 2011. “I loved baking and was really involved with Hillel on campus. This merged my interests. It looked like fun and like a great cause.”
She was flown by the organization to a summit and learned from other chapter organizers how to start a Challah for Hunger chapter. “We had to figure where to braid and bake. Fortunately our Hillel was extremely supportive. We got a website organized and learned where to buy flour wholesale.”
National statistics reveal that four out of 10 four-year university students are food insecure. The problem is greater on community college campuses which tend to have older students who may be taking care of families. “Most scholarships given to low-income students are for tuition only,” said Francesca la Basso, development associate for Challah for Hunger. “Our role is as a connector to help bring national policy work around creating a long-term solution for campuses so students can advocate for what they want to see.”