Spotlight: Community Leaders Working to End Hunger

December 2, 2023

MAZON is honored to be joined by leaders whose partnership is critical in advancing our shared goal of ending hunger. We are grateful for the leaders below and so many others — dedicated clergy, community leaders, government officials, and emerging young advocates — who empower and inspire us each day.

Ray Russolillo

MAZON Volunteer and Community Advocate, Weaverville, NC

Ray has a long history of working with MAZON to successfully organize the Jewish community in Asheville, North Carolina to fight against hunger locally and nationally. This summer, Ray introduced his community to The Hunger Museum and helped lead a statewide lobby day as part of MAZON’s Hunger Action Month. Further, he has been integral in our campaign to achieve universal school meals in the state.

“Hunger and food insecurity are social justice issues that have always fascinated and perplexed me… I am trying to do my part to move the needle a little bit by engaging in advocacy efforts with MAZON. In the past, I talked the talk; today, I am trying to walk the walk — food insecurity in these United States is just plain morally unacceptable!”

Samantha Joseph

Director, Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Boston, MA

As the first Jewish woman to lead a federal Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Samantha leads by example, putting faith into action to end hunger for all people. MAZON was honored to work with Samantha to co-host USDA’s first-ever Jewish American Heritage Month celebration in May.

“It is very meaningful for me to put my Jewish values into practice every day through my work at USDA. As a Rabbi’s daughter and the first Jewish woman [in this role], spending every day mobilizing faith and community leaders to increase access to healthy, nutritious food and fight hunger is truly an honor.”

Rabbi Iah Pillsbury

Rabbi, Temple Beit Torah Colorado Springs, CO

Rabbi Pillsbury first engaged with MAZON as part of the 2020 Jewish Clergy Justice Mission and since then, they have been a crucial partner in MAZON’s organizing in Colorado. Recently, Rabbi Pillsbury rallied the Temple Beit Torah community around advocacy efforts to pass Healthy School Meals for All — thanks to this and other advocacy efforts around the state, all students in Colorado public schools will now have access to free, nutritious school meals. Rabbi Pillsbury is organizing their community to meet with Senator Michael Bennet to further advocate for policies that will end hunger.

“Every person deserves to have reliable, stress- free access to healthy food. We live in one of
the richest nations in the world — this shouldn’t be a difficult thing to accomplish! And yet we
all know that far too many people go hungry every day, or stress about where their next meal is coming from. Pirkei Avot 3:17 teaches, ‘If there is no flour, there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no flour.’ Judaism commands us to feed the hungry. We literally don’t have Torah if we don’t have sustenance! I am so grateful to partner with MAZON to help build a world where no one goes hungry.”

Steven Dunbar

Bar Mitzvah Student and MAZON Volunteer Lincoln, CA

Steven Dunbar and his family came to MAZON in search of a meaningful way to engage around hunger for his bar mitzvah.
MAZON staff worked with Steven to educate his community about the reality and complexity of hunger in America. Not willing to stop at simply discussing food insecurity in his drosh (sermon), Steven also asked members of his community to join him in the fight against hunger by conducting a paper plate campaign. Together, Steven and his guests filled empty plates with their hopes — and support for essential nutrition benefits for people facing hunger. Steven collected 50 anti-hunger advocacy messages, and he plans to schedule a congressional meeting to personally deliver these messages to his local representatives.

“I first became aware of food insecurity and what that actually meant when our school announced it had collected more than 200 bags of food for people facing food insecurity within my middle school. I was confused because until then I had always associated food insecurity with homelessness. Like most food-secure kids, until then it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be kids sitting next to me in class who didn’t have enough to eat on a regular basis. I wanted to understand more. When it was time to look for a Mitzvah project for my Bar Mitzvah, I knew I needed to do something to positively impact this situation. This search led me to MAZON.

“I am lucky to be part of such a supportive and giving congregation. My community really got into this project, asking great questions and participating in the advocacy. This inspires me to continue to learn more and find more ways to get involved in the future.”