UVM’s Hillel fights food insecurity
February 22, 2022
Editor’s note: This story was updated March 3 at 6:13 p.m. to correct a transcription error.
UVM Hillel’s student-led food-based initiatives fight against food insecurity among college students, said senior Leah Kostick, Hillel Fresh director.
UVM Hillel is a Jewish organization whose mission hopes to provide a safe environment for Jewish students to express themselves, according to their website. The organization welcomes all students, no matter their religion, to get involved in Shabbat dinner and Hillel Fresh, student-led initiatives, Kostick said.
“Since COVID-19, one in three college students experienced food insecurity, so that’s a big mission for us,” she said.
Hillel Fresh began in fall 2019. Since its inception, the focal point of Hillel Fresh has been the crossroads of sustainable food and community, Kostick said.
“An older staff member who used to work here at Hillel had this idea about a program that incorporated locally sourced food and bringing students together,” Kostick said.
Hillel Fresh provides free food kits for students who wish to prepare meals with locally sourced produce, Kostick said.
Taking the time to focus on sourcing and preparing food coincides with Shabbat, which is a day of rest, Kostick said.
“It’s a day to reflect on your week and I think everyone can celebrate it differently,” she said.
UVM Hillel also holds Shabbat dinner at the Hillel building about three times a month, said sophomore Julia Feiler, co-chair of the Shabbat committee.
“It’s a good way to get student leadership and the community involved,” Feiler said. “There’s always a big turnout and we get to make fun meals and eat together.”
UVM Hillel’s Shabbat dinner offers the chance for any students to get involved in a food-based community event, Feiler said.
“It’s usually just a collaboration of whoever’s at Hillel and is in the kitchen,” Feiler said.
Volunteering to cook Shabbat dinner is a fun, informal way for people to get involved with the UVM Hillel community, Feiler said.
Shabbat dinner is also a chance for non-Jewish people to learn more about Jewish culture and traditions, through sharing a meal with friends or meeting new people, Kostick said.
At the most recent Shabbat dinner on Friday, Feb. 18, strangers and friends mingled at their tables as volunteers passed out food from the kitchen.
Before the meal, one of Hillel’s Springboard Ezra Fellows, Mollie Leibowitz Rabin, read a passage from the Torah and explained a little bit about the tradition of Shabbat in Judaism.
While Hillel Fresh and Shabbat are separate entities within UVM Hillel, they overlap when it comes to their preparation of food for Shabbat dinner, Feiler said.
“There are potatoes for [the Shabbat dinner] tonight that are extras from Hillel Fresh,” Feiler said.
UVM Hillel has nine small plots of land at the UVM Horticulture, and they grow things like pickles and tomatoes and have the opportunity to meet with a farmer to talk about sustainability in agriculture, Kostick said.
A pillar of both Shabbat dinner and the Hillel Fresh initiative is the intersection between food and community, Feiler said.
“They reach different audiences while they’re both very much about community building,” Feiler said.
On-campus students often attend Shabbat dinner and Hillel Fresh offers similar community-based food for off-campus students, Kostick said.
Through both initiatives, UVM Hillel presents opportunities for students with a passion for sustainable food and an interest in Judaism to come together and support the UVM community.
Students can sign up for Shabbat dinners and Hillel Fresh on Hillel’s website.