MAZON absorbs campus hunger program ‘Challah for Hunger’ from Nazun, which will dissolve (eJewish Philanthropy)

Esther D. Kustanowitz
August 22, 2023

This piece originally appeared in eJewish Philanthropy on August 7, 2023.


MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger has absorbed the campus-focused hunger program Challah for Hunger from its parent organization, Nazun, which is in the process of dissolving.

Nazun approached MAZON in March about absorbing its flagship program, and — after the idea was shared with stakeholders from both organizations in late July — the arrangement officially went into effect on Aug. 4.

Nazun, which uses leadership development, advocacy, community and philanthropy to work toward ending hunger and other social challenges on college campuses, felt its independence was unsustainable, but didn’t want to see its work end, Abby Leibman, MAZON’s CEO, told eJewishPhilanthropy.

“We have enormous respect for this program, and we’ve been so impressed by it,” Leibman said. “It’s very energizing to have an opportunity to build on something great, and shepherd it through growth and, and really stretch its wings.”

Challah for Hunger was founded in 2004 by Scripps College student Eli Winkelman. Winkelman served as CEO — Challah enthusiasm officer, naturally — for nine years and then transitioned to the board (which she wrote about for eJP at the time).

Nazun — which changed its name in January 2022 — will dissolve as an independent organization over the next several months. In addition to control over its main program, it will give MAZON the trademarks for both its name and for Challah for Hunger. However, the organization itself — its staff, board and financial assets and liabilities — will not be absorbed by MAZON.

“Closing Nazun is bittersweet,” Rebecca Bar, president and CEO of Nazun, told eJP. “I personally saw the strength and resiliency of our students and communities during the pandemic and am so proud to have led Nazun through that. While no Nazun staff will be moving over to MAZON, we are all excited to see what this next chapter has in store for Challah for Hunger, powered by MAZON, will bring.”

Wendy Rhein, chair of Nazun’s board, lauded her organization’s impact on thousands of Jewish college students and said she believed that the impact of the Challah for Hunger program will “grow tenfold” under MAZON. “[We are] excited to see how many more chapters are started and sustained under MAZON’s leadership,” she added.

Leibman said that Nazun’s campus chapters have been notified and reassured that they’ll be using the same platforms to implement the same programs.

In the next year, while the organization is building relationships with the chapters, the vast majority of Challah for Hunger-raised funding — 80% — will go to their choice of organizations, with the remaining 20% to Mazon for program operations, advocacy addressing college hunger at the federal level and to reinvest in chapters across the country.

Lieberman said that one potential growth area is to build more Challah for Hunger chapters at community colleges, where “students are far more vulnerable to food insecurity. There should be a more robust presence, we want to see what we can do to grow that,” she said.

In addition to developing the leadership skills and experiences of its members, Challah for Hunger is a way to more emphatically address hunger across the United States, Leibman added, because those leaders “understand how fundamental it is that people have adequate food in order to survive… [it’s] an opportunity to really build on something that has been a remarkable asset in the anti-hunger movement.” Case in point: two Challah for Hunger alumni, who held leadership positions in their campus chapters, are currently on staff at MAZON.

Right now, MAZON isn’t planning to hire new staff for this program, and will instead rely on the existing outreach and education team as it shifts to center on peer learning, Naama Haviv, MAZON’s vice president of community engagement, told eJP.

“The students have a lot to learn from each other, and we also have a lot to learn from the students – so rather than pairing each chapter with a specific staff or alumni advisor, we’ll be hosting monthly ‘office hours’ with MAZON,” Haviv said. The students will work with MAZON staff to determine these meetings’ agendas, guest speakers and skill-building workshops, with time for students to troubleshoot with their peers. Chapters that want more support will have access to MAZON staff, Haviv added.

Swipe Out Hunger, a separate organization that partners with college campuses nationwide to end student hunger, was formerly Nazun’s philanthropic partner. SOH hubs at 620 campuses across North America, representing 300-400 student leaders, would sell Nazun’s challah and fund a local and national partner, while a portion of proceeds came to SOH and supported on-campus food pantries or other local hunger relief efforts. SOH and Nazun worked together in the policy arena, trying to pass hunger-related legislation, state by state, and working to alleviate hunger for the one-in-three students who identify as “food insecure” — those who lack access to sufficient food and adequate quality food, which can include food that meets cultural, traditional or dietary needs.

Jaime Hansen, who is marking the close of her first year as SOH’s executive director, said that Challah for Hunger will “reimagine their impact and structure” after the program is integrated into MAZON’s work, but that allied voices are always welcome.

“The topic [of campus hunger] is one with a lot of myths, stereotypes and misinformation. When more organizations bring light to this critical issue, that’s best for us,” Hansen said.

During Leibman’s 12 years at the helm, MAZON’s mission hasn’t changed but is now more specifically focusing on the U.S. and Israel. Capitalizing on the organization’s small size and relatively lean structure, Leibman said, MAZON could operate more nimbly to identify under-served issues or populations whose needs were unmet by the Federal Safety Net — a group of programs including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, and Welfare Programs — or by other nonprofits. MAZON did not formerly deal with hunger issues on college campuses, leaving that to groups like Nazun and Swipe Out Hunger. But when Nazun needed to retrench, MAZON stepped forward again to absorb the program, a great example, Leibman said, of how MAZON identifies its priorities.

“There’s some ebb and flow. If we feel that there’s still a need for us to be present in that work,” she added, “we will be there for that.”

MAZON has a network of about 1,000 synagogues, schools and other Jewish community organizational partnerships across the country, in nearly every U.S. state. Its donor support is stable, Leibman told eJP, with 25,000-30,000 donors in any given year.

Since the organization’s launch in 1985, MAZON has encouraged communities, families and individuals to donate 3% of the cost of their celebrations; this idea, the brainchild of MAZON founder, Leonard Fein, and founding executive director, Irv Cramer, has yielded incalculable donations, but the number is likely in the millions over the four decades, said Haviv.

The organization also recently launched a virtual hunger museum to raise awareness of hunger’s longevity as an issue.

“The U.S. has a long history of food insecurity and poverty complicated or created by systems of injustice, particularly racial, and, I would argue, also misogyny,” Leibman said. “MAZON steps in and says, ‘we need to be part of the solution.’”

“We have plenty of ideas about how [lawmakers] can address the staggering rates of food insecurity on college campuses around the country,” Haviv said.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to better reflect the process by which MAZON will absorb the Challah for Hunger program, but not Nazun as an organization.