Ali Braun is the Tzedek (Social Justice) Intern at AU Hillel and has been working with Mazon to address hunger through policy work.
Hunger. Whether we were hungry for change, hungry for solace, or actually just hungry for a meal, we’ve all experienced it. During my first year of college, I personally experienced several types of hunger, yet was fortunate enough to never know the pangs of starvation. However, moving to Washington D.C., a city where 13.4% of all households experience food insecurity, opened my eyes to the prevalence of hunger in a new way. I realized that hunger was not limited to certain zip codes or segments of the population. In fact, food insecurity – the inability to consistently provide yourself or your family with healthy, nutritious meals – is so prevalent that it is even impacting my peers.
In an environment like a college campus, where our collective success as students is so deeply influenced by the learning experiences we share in and out of the classroom, it is difficult to imagine just how detrimental hunger is to our academic success. Particularly at a school like American University that prides itself on social justice and sustainability, it seemed fitting that we first address the injustices in our own communities. To cultivate awareness on campus and start making a direct impact as the Tzedek Intern for Hillel, I partnered with American University Dining and the Public Health club to hold a sandwich-making event in our dining hall.
On Wednesday, October 29, 2014, students already eating in the dining hall took a few moments to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was donated to the local organization Martha’s Table. As the participants were crafting their sandwiches, members of the Public Health club and myself were having meaningful conversations about the many faces of food insecurity. Over the course of the afternoon, 92 sandwiches were made. While those sandwiches have the power to temporarily satiate 92 fathers, mothers, and children, the momentum built by engaging 92 other students has the power to create a ripple effect of contribution. If it is as simple as a conversation with my roommate about food insecurity or as far reaching as opening the door to an enthusiasm for social justice for another student, these brief moments of engagement have the potential to encapsulate the promise of my generation.
Moving forward, I hope to grow the partnership between Hillel and American University Dining in addressing food insecurity in the campus community. Whether this is by establishing a scholarship program to provide food insecure students with limited meal plans, or by ensuring that those who are employed by the dining establishments on campus are able to feed not only themselves when they are at work, but also their families when they go home, Judaism has taught me that we have a responsibility to our immediate and extended community. In the Torah (Leviticus 23:22) it is written to “Gather the gleanings of your harvest; You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger.” With this commandment grounded in our consciousness, we are guided to live with the intention of extending beyond ourselves. In order to prosper as a people, we must look beyond that which flourishes in our own lives and make an effort to sow seeds of mitzvot in the lives of others.
Ali Braun is from Miami, Florida and is a sophomore double major in public health and psychology.