The Hillels at the University of Oklahoma and Muhlenberg College led the pack in their respective divisions to each claim a $1,000 prize in the "WorldManna.org Challenge." The combined effort of all 13 schools that participated in the challenge was instrumental in helping World Manna.org reach its goal of 10,000 signatures by March 31.
The challenge, conceived by the Tritt Social Action Force of Hillels of Georgia and cosponsored by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, was an innovative social-action program that asked students to get as many people as possible to sign the WorldManna.org pledge. The pledge lets food companies know that, as consumers, the signers would choose to buy food products from manufacturers that donate 1 percent of their proceeds to alleviate world hunger. The food products would be identifiable by the WorldManna.org logo on product packaging.
"Did Hillel make a difference? You bet we did," said Jacob Schreiber, executive director of Hillels of Georgia. "By midnight of March 31, WorldManna.org achieved 10,002 signatures, and 2,256 of those can be attributed directly to the Hillel campaign on 13 campuses."
Schreiber said that Hillels likely inspired up to 20 percent more signatures than the confirmed figure, as many people who signed the petition on line did not necessarily write down the name of the university.
"I know that my children were responsible for hundreds of signatures from two Georgia elementary schools – one Jewish, one secular – as a result of being inspired by the challenge," Schreiber said.
University of Oklahoma Hillel collected 522 signatures, leading the 10,000 and over division (total undergraduate population), while Muhlenberg College Hillel racked up 374 signatures. The prize money, provided by Hillels of Georgia and Hillel President Avraham Infeld will be used to fund social-justice initiatives on their campuses.
"We just set up a table for four days near the food court and corralled everybody who came by," said Rabbi Steven Kirschner, director of University of Okalahoma Hillel. "It was easy to get people to sign a petition to fight world hunger right after they had a good meal of their own."
It was a campus-wide effort at Muhlenberg College, according to Hillel Director Patricia Mittleman.
"We didn't even publicize that there was a prize involved since we never thought we'd win as such a small school, but because we were all committed to the work WorldManna.org can do to eradicate world hunger," Mittleman said.
Other Hillels answering the challenge included Brandeis University, Emory University, McMaster University, Florida State University, University of Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Boston University, College of Staten Island and University of Maryland. In addition, Jewish students from the University of Arizona and from the University of Texas answered the call outside of the framework of their Hillels.
"I was pleased by the diversity of schools that participated in the challenge," WorldManna.org Director Dianne Kolb said. "We got universities from Latin America, Canada and Belarus inquiring about how to take part. And even though the challenge ended in March, we are still getting signatures from these schools."
For more information on WorldManna.org, or to sign the pledge, please go to its Web site.