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Our Federation’s Response to Jewish Young Adult Food Insecurity

If you or someone you know needs food, our Federation’s NuRoots wants to help.

One in five people in Los Angeles — including Jewish young adults — doesn’t have enough to eat and we’re teaming up with Swipe Out Hunger to respond to these needs. Gift cards are immediately available to redeem at grocery stores and through meal delivery services. Additional resources are available for longer-term situations and non-Jewish community members.

Visit swipehunger.org/wellfed to learn more, sign up, and find resources, or to refer a friend anonymously if you think someone needs help. Rachel Sumekh, Founder of Swipe Out Hunger, alum of our Rautenberg New Leaders Project, shares her story and about our organization’s partnership with Swipe Out Hunger to create WellFed to address food insecurity, currently one of the most pressing issues within the young adult community.

What is Swipe Out Hunger?

Swipe Out Hunger was founded by a group of friends at UCLA in 2010, where we worked with campus administration and student government members to formalize a program for students to donate their unused meal points to others facing food insecurity. Nationally, hundreds of millions of dollars in unused meal plan points go unused each year. Over the last 10 years, Swipe Out Hunger has scaled this solution and other innovative anti-hunger programs to more than 120 colleges in 39 states. We work upstream too, having passed over $50 million dollars in anti-hunger legislation in California.

What does food insecurity look like?

Food insecurity is defined as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food, or the ability to acquire such food in a socially acceptable manner. The most extreme form is often accompanied by physiological sensations of hunger. We’ve begun to receive requests for support via Well Fed from Jewish young adults who share the physiological impacts of their food insecurity, including weight loss.

What is your connection to the Federation?

Federation has been intertwined in my life since I was a wide-eyed undergraduate building community at UCLA Hillel. Now, I’m an alum of NLP, serve as a mentor for the Julie Beren Platt Teen Innovation Grant program, have staffed Birthright Israel LA Way trips, and now I’m eager to be partnering with brilliant Federation leaders like Jason Leivenberg and Roxy Zevin to bring WellFed to so many of our city’s young adults.

What did you learn from your experience with NLP that has impacted you as a leader both in the Jewish community and Swipe Out Hunger?

As an Iranian American Jewish woman becoming a strong leader has always been important for me which is what drew me to NLP. While there are many leadership programs, few in LA have curated a network like the New Leaders Project. I love seeing my fellow NLPers publish books, organize campaigns for racial justice and find ways to create more justice together.

How did Well Fed come about and who do you hope to reach through the program?

Well Fed is an amazing program that provides grocery gift cards and meal delivery to Jewish young adults who have lost a job, a loved one or have been otherwise financially impacted by the pandemic. The Federation is deeply invested in our city’s college students, from Chabad at USC to Hillel 818. With unemployment at an all-time high and our social support limited because of the pandemic, many of those same young adults are being hit hard from many sides, as if being a 20 something wasn’t hard enough! At this moment, the last thing anyone should be worried about is if they’ll
have the ability to have a nourishing meal that day, nevertheless the three meals many of us enjoy without a second thought. The Federation and NuRoots are being adaptive to the needs of the current moment, helping young adults meet their basic needs and make it through this hard time stronger than before.

Why is the need for Well Fed so important for the L.A. Jewish community?

Well Fed is an important program for many reasons, but there are two that stand out to me. If an individual’s physical needs are not being met, all of the other programs and opportunities the Jewish community offers are not relevant and in fact, are actively exclusionary of low-income Jews. Secondly, at its surface, our community operates with the assumption that there are no longer poor Jews in our city. That is simply not true. The value of Well Fed, alongside amazing organizations such as JVS/JFS, is that it addresses the stigmas that prevent us from acknowledging poverty in our own community and properly showing up with resources and support for our neighbors.

Since COVID started, what has been the greatest challenge(s) SOH has had to face?

Our model relied heavily on the college campus infrastructure – dining halls, meal plans and students on campus to run our programs! While we know we will eventually resume normal operations. We have launched five new programs since March in an effort to reach students. Nationally, 1 in 3 college students is food insecure. Previously, we could reach them on campus but now, we’ve developed national programs like the Student Navigator Network where we’ve hired college students to help other students enroll in programs like SNAP, Unemployment Insurance and access campus benefits. We’ve been able to support more than 6,500 students
thus far!

What do you hope for the future of SOH’s partnership with Federation?

Our Chief Strategy Officer Maddie Alpert McCarthy and I have enjoyed working with the Federation and NuRoots team on Well Fed while learning more about the many Caring for Jews in Need programs the Federation invests in. Swipe Out Hunger will be eager to continue supporting the Federation as it creates programs that meet the needs of today’s students. How often do students go to a Hillel event for free pizza because they can rely on that to be their primary meal of the day? And if we know this, how else can our institutions support more of our students’ basic needs?

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