The White House Endorses MAZON Initiative (Jewish Journal)

Debra L. Eckerling
March 8, 2024

This article was originally published in the Jewish Journal on March 7th, 2024.

As part of the White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities, the Biden-Harris administration announced a powerful round of commitments at an event on Feb. 27. This includes a new national initiative from MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, which focus on two often-overlooked populations: college students and Indigenous communities.

“The Biden-Harris administration’s support for MAZON’s anti-hunger initiatives is truly meaningful, particularly as we continue to face uphill battles and divisive politics that threaten our nation’s social safety net,” MAZON’s president & CEO Abby J. Leibman told the Journal.

Inspired by Jewish values and ideals, MAZON is a national advocacy organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. “We are deeply proud to be part of the historic effort to address hunger in this country,” Leibman said.

MAZON’s staff attended the announcement event at the White House, alongside second gentleman Doug Emhoff, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chef José Andrés and others. “As anti-hunger champion Congressman Jim McGovern said at the [event], ‘Hunger is essentially a political condition: We have the tools and resources,’” Leibman said.

“We know that investing in federal assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, and the Child Tax Credit will help the millions of Americans struggling with hunger and poverty, and yet some policymakers would rather cut assistance than expand it,” she said. “We cannot stand by while millions of Americans face hunger and hardship.”

MAZON’s White House commitment includes educating, organizing and convening student leaders from its Challah for Hunger campus chapters across the country for a leadership conference in Washington, D.C. Challah for Hunger brings together campus and community groups, around the Jewish tradition of baking challah. Proceeds of the sales are donated to the fight to end hunger, both locally and nationally.

“At its core, Challah for Hunger is really a leadership program,” Leibman said. “Bringing campus leaders to our nation’s capital will enable us to deepen their understanding of the realities and complexities of hunger in America, both on college campuses and beyond.” She adds, “They will learn directly from policy experts, develop skills to advance change in their communities and bring their passion and stories to the halls of power as they meet with members of Congress. Their voices will be essential in actualizing long-term solutions to end hunger in this country.”

MAZON will also work toward improving food security and food sovereignty among Indigenous communities. This includes new investments to promote tribal-driven solutions to revitalize and advance traditional food systems and diversified economic development throughout Indian Country. Additionally, MAZON will work with Indigenous leaders to develop a new permanent exhibit in its all-virtual experience, The Hunger Museum.

“This country has a long and troubled history in Indian Country, with government food programs being used as a tool of colonization,” Mia Hubbard, MAZON’s vice president of programs, said via press release. “Developing new educational content for The Hunger Museum will enable and encourage diverse audiences to confront and understand the historical and contemporary effects of federal food policies in Indian Country, as well as how Indigenous communities today are asserting food sovereignty and holding the U.S. government accountable for the obligations owed to Tribes.” She adds, “We are eager to work alongside our partners in Indian Country to bring these critically important stories to light.”

MAZON was deeply engaged in advocating for the convening of, and voicing its goals for, the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, held on Sept. 28, 2022. Prior to gathering, the first and only event of its kind took place in 1969, and led to the creation and expansion of federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC, and the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program.

“When we were involved with the White House Conference in September 2022, I harbored no illusions that a one-day summit would help us end hunger overnight, but it allowed us to ask questions and understand the causes of hunger,” Leibman said. “Hunger is not a new phenomenon; it has always been a part of our nation’s history.