Nearly 20 percent of students at four-year universities experience some form of food insecurity, a lack of reliable access to enough affordable and nutritious food, according to statistics by the Challah for Hunger organization.
Food insecurity is a nationwide phenomenon, and although USC is at the center of an urban cultural hub, students and South L.A. residents still struggle with locating affordable and nutritious food daily.
Rachel Kartin, a junior majoring in religious studies, is working to change how USC students view food insecurity through a campus chapter of Challah for Hunger, a nonprofit organization that advocates against hunger. In addition to its advocacy work, Challah for Hunger raises funds for anti-hunger organizations and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, its national partner.
Although USC has resources dedicated to helping students facing food insecurity, such as the virtual food pantry offered by the Dornsife Office for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives and the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, an estimated 1.4 million people in Los Angeles County live with food insecurity, according to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
“USC has an interesting dynamic,” Kartin said. “The school is very wealthy, but the surrounding area is not. This is something we need to be aware of. It would be really nice if through our advocacy, USC could begin to understand the issues that people who struggle with food insecurity have.”
Kartin also referenced the University’s virtual food pantry as a resource, but said the amount of food the pantry supplies on an emergency basis is not enough. The pantry provides a maximum of four $25 Trader Joe’s gift cards per semester and four over the summer.
“Food will still be something you’re focused on trying to obtain,” Kartin said.
The organization’s volunteers bake challah, a traditional Jewish sweet bread, every other Wednesday and sell them to students outside of the USC Hillel fundraiser for $5 the next day.
Of the money raised, half is donated to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and the other half to MAZON, which has already raised $1 million as a national organization.
“It’s a great organization incredibly close to USC and it serves the surrounding community,” Kartin said. “We work to raise awareness of food insecurity nationally, internationally and on campus and also to create a sense of community amongst our volunteers.”
Prior to transferring to USC as a junior, Kartin was involved in Challah for Hunger at Occidental College for two years. Challah for Hunger has 80 chapters on college campuses around the world and aims to engage students in philanthropy and activism.
“I’ve always been involved in advocacy and social justice programs,” Kartin said. “I knew that advocacy was something I was passionate about in general and [by being involved in Challah for Hunger] I was able to get involved in something I had the ability to advocate for.”
Also a member campaigning for the Campus Hunger Project, a national research project created by Challah for Hunger, Kartin works to investigate campus-wide issues involving food insecurity and ultimately provide awareness to the struggles that many Trojans may face obtaining food on a daily basis.
“For me, at least, ‘Fight On’ doesn’t just apply to sports,” Kartin said. “It’s about striving to do more. We are a large, strong community that comes together to help others, our neighbors and those around us.”