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Challah for Hunger satisfies cravings, helps worthy causes

The University's chapter of the international non-profit celebrates Jewish tradition while combating hunger locally

Looking for a way to satisfy your carb cravings and help a worthy cause at the same time? Challah for Hunger has a table on the Lawn you may actually want to visit.

The University’s Challah for Hunger branch is part of an international nonprofit organization that raises money for charity by baking traditional Jewish bread from scratch using ingredients donated from Albemarle Baking Company. The University’s chapter sells its culinary creations to students every Thursday on the Lawn from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Plain loaves cost $3 and flavored loaves cost $4. Proceeds go to the Charlottesville Food Bank and the American Jewish World Service Sudan Relief and Advocacy Fund.

Kate Belza, the organization’s current president and a fourth-year College student, met the founder of the international Challah for Hunger organization at a conference in New York before coming to the University. An Alternative Spring Break trip to Israel in March 2011 inspired Belza to start a chapter in Charlottesville. The group had its first bake in April 2011 and “really got off the ground” last fall, Belza said.

The team built membership and awareness to increase its sales, and Challah for Hunger now enjoys a steady stream of requests. Last year the group baked more than 1,000 loaves and donated $4,400 to charitable causes, Belza said. This year the organization has raised roughly $2,500 so far, she said.

University students can pre-order challahs each week, or they can visit the table and hope to snag one or maybe a couple.

“We get anywhere from 35 to 80 pre-orders each week, and we make between 70 and 130 loaves each week,” said second-year College student Zoe Newberg, the organization’s vice president of baking. “But we’re hoping to expand even more.”

Challah is a traditional sweet braided bread eaten on Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. Baking challah is an extensive process. Bakers meet each Wednesday at the Brody Jewish Center. First, they combine the wet and dry ingredients in batches of up to 20 loaves, stir by hand, transfer to an electric mixer and knead the enormous mound. The dough rises. Bakers add flavorings, delicately braid the dough and coat it with egg wash for a golden sheen. After baking, the loaves can be packaged and labeled for sale. It can take up to five hours from start to finish to prepare fresh loaves for Thursday morning.

Second-year College student and Vice President of Advocacy Marissa Friedman said the best part of the baking process is the kneading. “It’s so meditative and such a stress relief,” she said.

Newberg’s favorite part is eating — and coming up with the flavors of the week. She said she likes creating special flavors by adding pizazz to the dough in the form of mashed bananas and cinnamon or sweet pumpkin puree.

The chapter plans to sell challah to other Jewish organizations in Charlottesville, said Vice President of Membership Sapir Nachum, a second-year College student.

Students do not need to be Jewish to get involved with Challah for Hunger. Everyone can purchase challah, and anyone can help bake. Regular bakers often bring friends along, and sororities sometimes help bake as part of their philanthropic efforts.

“We encourage anybody to come,” Friedman said. “Bakers, braiders and buyers are always in need.”

In addition to plain, cinnamon sugar, chocolate chip and garlic and rosemary, Challah for Hunger offers a special flavor each week. In the past, featured flavors have included banana bread, apple cinnamon and orange cranberry. Pumpkin proved the fall favorite, earning a record number of orders the week it was offered.

Interested students can like the group’s Facebook page for pre-order forms and information on how to get involved.