(Photo via facebook.com/challahforhunger)
As an undergraduate, I tended to be covered in flour.
Every Wednesday and Thursday I helped lead my university’s chapter of Challah for Hunger (CfH), an international nonprofit that builds communities inspired and equipped to take action against hunger.
Our program is simple and effective. Student volunteers gather together to bake challah bread that is sold to their peers, university staff and community members. While the dough rises, volunteers learn about the underlying causes of hunger and discuss tactics for advocating for long-term solutions to food insecurity. All CfH chapters (80 and growing!) donate profits of challah sales to nonprofits that are addressing hunger locally and nationally.
When CfH offered me the full-time opportunity to support student leaders across the network, I leapt at it. I now serve as the director of campus programs. Beyond the skills students gain around philanthropy and advocacy, our program trains students to run a social enterprise and provides them with business and leadership skills. Since 2004 our volunteers have raised more than $1 million for anti-hunger nonprofits.
For example, through this campaign we’re empowering volunteers to connect their peers with emergency supports like campus food pantries. At the University of California at Davis and Binghamton University, our volunteers are creating digital and physical maps that show different places on campus where students can apply for emergency scholarships and apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
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In this time of heightened political activism, the Campus Hunger Project connects volunteers to a hyperlocal problem that threatens their peers’ physical and academic well-being. As we begin a strategic planning process to scale the Campus Hunger Project to involve our wider community, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the impact our campaign is having on volunteers and the lessons we’ve learned as an organization.
If your organization wants to engage volunteers in collective learning and action, here are the strategies we used to mobilize volunteers on 40+ campuses for our first national advocacy campaign.
1. A small, tech-savvy staff can deliver major results.
CfH’s five full-time staff members are located in Philadelphia but we work with thousands of volunteers across the country. We rely on an online engagement platform to recruit volunteers for our advocacy campaign and to share educational resources. So, when we got feedback from volunteers that our digital resources could be organized more strategically, we hit the refresh button.
To better understand how people navigate through digital resources, I took Girl Develop It classes on user experience design and attended a lecture series about designing for social impact. As a result of these trainings, I gained a new understanding of how volunteers interact with CfH’s platform. Volunteers now have access to a user-friendly, interactive learning module that provides an overview of college food insecurity and offers concrete actions to take to raise awareness of this issue.
2. Lean on partners to spread your message.
November is traditionally a busy month for nonprofits and not just because it’s peak fundraising time. The holiday season is a time of abundance and celebration — how could we keep the momentum going for a campaign about hunger?
During the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, we knew volunteers would be spending more together with friends and family. In partnership with the National Student Campaign Against Hunger, we mobilized students on 26 campuses to lead special events during National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week that called attention to the presence of poverty in our country and inspired people to share their resources and time with others.
We also partnered with Repair the World, a nonprofit focused on recruiting Jewish millennials in direct service work, to create a discussion guide that volunteers could use to lead discussions about food insecurity with friends and family at their Thanksgiving tables. Both partnerships inspired our volunteers to think about our campaign in new contexts and catalyzed conversations about equity, empathy and food justice.
3. Celebrate small victories along the way to keep volunteers motivated.
Campaigns can be grueling for the people on the ground implementing them. Ending food insecurity will take years and involve major policy changes, since public welfare and financial aid programs like SNAP and the Federal Pell Grant program simply haven’t adapted to meet the needs of 21st-century college students.
When our University of Wisconsin and Stanford University volunteers landed meetings with the City of Madison’s food policy coordinator and a California state senator to discuss these issues, we made sure to broadcast our volunteers’ accomplishments with our wider community. Not only did this show appreciation for individual volunteers, it reminds us all that collective action is the foundation for long-term change.
From volunteering in college to leading students across the country, I’ve learned so much from my involvement with CfH. We’re proud of our students’ work and can’t wait to see what they accomplish in 2018.
To learn more about Challah for Hunger, visit its website or reach out to Talia Berday Sacks at firstname.lastname@example.org.-30-
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