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Nov. 17, 2016Challah for HungerFighting Poverty One Loaf at a Time

Start with some flour, sugar, salt, eggs, yeast, vegetable oil and water. Add cheese or chives, garlic or cinnamon, apples or raspberries, or maybe some marshmallows or chocolate chips. Stir in a healthy serving of social consciousness, and what have you got? Vassar’s chapter of Challah for Hunger, a nationwide student group that’s been baking to fight poverty for more than a decade.

The Vassar chapter of Challah for Hunger bakes about 100 loaves a week and donates the proceeds to charity.Photo: Karl Rabe

Every Tuesday afternoon throughout the school year, Miranda Cornell ’19, Maddy Ouellette ’19 and six or eight other students gather in the kitchen of the Bayit, prepare enough dough for about 100 loaves of the traditional Jewish bread, then braid it and bake it. 

The challah goes on sale in the Retreat the next day, and within hours, the group has raised another $250 or $300 to feed the hungry. Proceeds are split evenly between Dutchess Outreach, a local agency that runs a soup kitchen and food pantry and provides other services for those in need in the Poughkeepsie area; and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, an Israel-based group that feeds the hungry worldwide. The Vassar chapter raises about $4,000 a year.

Photo: Karl Rabe

Cornell, a drama and education double major from Brooklyn, is part of a Jewish family and had been enjoying challah for most of her life. She learned about Challah for Hunger more or less by chance while she was visiting Vassar for Accepted Students Open House in the spring of 2015. “A friend of mine who was already at Vassar was singing in an a cappella concert while I was here, so I went to her concert. Alex Mouton ’16, who was the president of Challah for Hunger, was singing in the same group,” Cornell says. “She gave me a loaf of challah, and when I came to Vassar six months later, one of the first things I did was join Challah for Hunger.”

Ouellette, a psychology major from Rensselaerville, NY, also joined the organization early in her freshman year. “I was at the student org fair and I heard someone behind me say, ‘Do you like baking?’” she recalls. “I turned around, met the president of Challah for Hunger and asked a few questions. I knew what challah was, but I’m not Jewish and I’d never heard of Challah for Hunger. I love to bake, and it’s important to fight hunger. I signed up immediately.”

Livia Bartels ’20, Oluwabukola Oloyede ’20, and Maddy Ouellette ’19 display their wares. Photo: Karl Rabe

Both Cornell and Ouellette say baking challah for a worthy cause is rewarding in several ways. “Being at Vassar can sometimes make you feel isolated from the greater Poughkeepsie community, and providing funds for Dutchess Outreach enables us to feel more connected,” Cornell says. “We’re planning to visit the agency next semester to get to know the people there on a more personal level.”

Ouellette says being part of Challah for Hunger has enriched her Vassar experience. “It’s fun to learn a new skill, but as you get to know others in the group, baking together becomes a bonding experience,” she says. “If you’re having a bad day, being together in the kitchen lifts your spirit, knowing you’re doing something meaningful.”