Baking a Better World
Almost every Thursday evening of the academic year, a non-denominational group of volunteers gathers at the Hillel UCLA kitchen to bake challah bread. Proceeds go to a group that supplies Darfur refugees with solar-powered stoves.
Published: Monday, May 24, 2010
By Randi Schmelzer, Photos by Ann Summa
When Alisa Malki '10 and Caryn Roth '10 first met as UCLA freshmen, they instantly bonded over a love of food and social justice. But the undergrads did more than talk about their shared passions. They started raising dough — literally — for Darfur refugees.
In early 2008, Malki and Roth launched the UCLA chapter of the national student organization Challah for Hunger. Now, almost every Thursday evening of the academic year, a non-denominational group of volunteers gathers at the Hillel UCLA kitchen to bake challah bread; the fresh loaves are sold Friday mornings on campus, and always sell out.
More than bringing hot bread to hungry students, "we're baking here in a little kitchen in L.A. to help feed people on the other side of the world," Roth explains.
Though the spiral, braided loaves they produce — about 100 a week — are strictly kosher, these are not your Bubbe's challahs. Purists can opt for a traditional-style challah, topped with sesame seeds and salt, but UCLA's challah bakers also pride themselves on "adventurous flavors" like cinnamon sugar, chocolate chip and chocolate-chip peanut butter. There's always a "flavor of the week," too; sundried tomato-basil "always sells out really fast," Roth says.
Almost all Challah for Hunger proceeds, she says, go directly to Southern California-based nonprofit Jewish World Watch, in particular its Solar Cooker Project, which provides inexpensive, solar-powered stoves to the thousands of human-rights-abuse victims who fled Darfur for refugee camps.
The innovative project, Malki adds, "touches on women's rights, economic empowerment and natural resources." Most importantly, however, since its inception, the program has lessened the risk of women getting beaten and raped when they leave camps to collect fuelwood by 87 percent, according to JWW.
In two years, UCLA's Challah for Hunger chapter has donated about $9,500 to the project. Considering that just six challahs will provide a refugee family with two solar cookers, that's especially gratifying, Malki says. "Instead of donating $20 to whatever, here's something really specific that can demonstrate real change." The Bruin chapter has donated an additional $3,000 to other Darfur-related charities.
Obviously, though, Roth adds, "we can't make all that challah by ourselves." To that end, UCLA's chapter relies solely on volunteers from the community — more than 40 every week. Religious background is never a barrier, nor is the inability to pronounce "challah" with the proper guttural inflection.
Volunteers just have to "have a love of food, and making sure other people have food," Malki says.
But challah nights aren't only about baking and bagging. They also include guest speakers: reps from JWW, like-minded student groups, UCLA professors and community activists, among others.
Still, while education and advocacy is key to Challah for Hunger's success, "the number-one reason people come is because it's a fun way to de-stress," Roth says.