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Holla for Challah: Students Bake Bread to Earn Dough for Charity

It’s Thursday night and David Fetter ’11 hears a knock on the door. “Challah delivery,” calls Challah for Hunger Co-President Jake Cohen ’10, holding a box brimming with freshly baked traditional Jewish sweet bread. Fetter opens the door and is handed a warm whole-wheat chocolate chip loaf. He and sponsor group pals take turns ordering the braided bread each week from the organization’s website. “Whoever has the most Flex will buy a loaf or two and share it,” Fetter says. “The challah is delicious and it’s an added bonus that you’re helping people.”

Started by Eli Winkelman ‘07 at Scripps College in 2005, Challah for Hunger is a student-run volunteer organization that bakes and sells hundreds of challah loaves each week, donating earnings to the American Jewish World Service Emergency Appeal for Darfur. Co-President Rachel Hamburg ’10 began baking with the Scripps chapter last year, but was disappointed that male friends like Cohen couldn’t join because men aren’t permitted in the dining hall kitchen. This spring, with the support of Pomona administrators and staff, Hamburg and Cohen started a Pomona chapter of Challah for Hunger, which has about 20 active members.

Under the supervision of Chef Stein Amland, volunteers convene in the Oldenborg kitchen on Thursday afternoons. “It’s a total blast to make the challah and it also fosters a community within the school,” Hamburg says. Donning aprons and chef hats, they make five varieties of challah: plain, chocolate chip (the most popular), cinnamon sugar, whole-wheat chocolate chip and whole-wheat cinnamon raisin. “We might start making a swirl with chocolate and cinnamon,” says Hamburg.

Adds Assistant Baking Director Marlies Talay ‘10, “We are also experimenting with jelly and other flavors.” The currently bake about 200 loaves per week.

“I’ve always thought of Challah for Hunger as having two distinct functions,” Cohen says. “One of them is to think about how to make the most impact with the money we raise.” Like their Scripps counterpart, the Pomona club currently donates all proceeds to helping victims of Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In addition to supporting international relief efforts, they plan to assist local organizations starting next fall and recently formed a subcommittee to listen to pitches from students and to ultimately pick fund recipients. “Wherever we give, we want to know exactly [how the money will be spent] so people can have that information when they’re buying challah,” Cohen says.

The second function, according to Cohen, is to “raise a lot of money and acquire the resources we need to do these things.” Volunteers started out selling bread for $4 on Friday mornings at the Smith Campus Center and have since taken on inventive initiatives. They now they sell challah at Snack at Frary on Thursday nights and recruited Pitzer volunteers to sell on their campus on Friday mornings. In addition, they set up a website, started a delivery service (which they charge an extra dollar for), and allow students to pay using Flex dollars.

Challah for Hunger has gained popularity across the country and has inspired chapters at other campuses, including UCLA, University of Texas at Austin, Smith College in Massachusetts, and University of Rochester. So far, the organization has raised more than $50,000 nationwide.