Challah at Joe: Student Bakes Bread for Good
Economics major Joe Schneider had just gone home to the Bay Area to ride out the pandemic in the spring of 2020 when his dad first encouraged him to make challah, a traditional Jewish bread baked to celebrate the Sabbath.
“He brought out his bread machine and suggested I make it,” Schneider said, adding that he hadn’t made challah since he was a kid at camp. “I caught the baking bug.”
Schneider baked loaves of the bread every week during the fall quarter of 2020. But when he moved back to San Luis Obispo this past January, he decided to combine his love of baking with his passion for helping others.
“When I was home, I worked at a local food bank,” Schneider, a third-year student, explained. “When I moved back to SLO, I had a lot more flexibility and I decided that I should use my skills to raise money for different nonprofits.”
Schneider started an Instagram account, Challah at Joe, to connect with community members who wanted to buy challah. His first batch sold out within a day.
Throughout the winter and spring quarters, he put out a weekly order request form, accepting six orders each on Thursdays and Fridays. The challahs were sold for a suggested donation of $7.
Schneider sent each week’s donations to a local nonprofit. Some of the nonprofits that benefited from Challah at Joe included the Cal Poly Food Pantry, Gala Pride and Diversity Center, the Central Coast Coalition for Undocumented Student Success and R.A.C.E. Matters.
Schneider went on hiatus during the summer, and a move to a new apartment with an untrustworthy oven meant no more weekly challah orders during fall quarter. But Schneider’s been able to continue baking challah for the people: he and a few volunteers set up a booth at Culturefest via the Jewish student organization Hillel.
“We were able to sell a ton of loaves through Hillel,” Schneider said, adding that Congregation Beth David, a local synagogue, gave Schneider and his volunteers access to their kitchen to bake ahead of the event. The money raised from the challah booth was split between Hillel and Beth David. “We raised a decent sum of money. A lot of people came and bought loaves — there’s a demand for it.”
In the meantime, Schneider continues baking challah for himself and friends, and sometimes heads over to Chabad of SLO & Cal Poly, another Jewish organization, to help prepare the Sabbath dinner and give people some pointers on challah baking.
His greatest tips: dial in the techniques, don’t rush and, of course, bake with love.
“There are so many different variables in baking. You have to feel it,” Schneider said. “You have to do it with love and intention because that’s when it turns out the best. You can’t rush it.”
In the meantime, Schneider’s working on setting up a club on campus, called Challah at Us, that will continue the original mission of Challah at Joe.
“I want to teach more people how to bake; I’ve had a lot of people asking me,” Schneider said. “I want to be able to raise more money and get more people involved in doing good deeds for SLO.”
Schneider is not planning to collect dues from club members, instead relying on ASI funding. He’s also in touch with the Bread Bakers Guild of America, who are looking to connect him with materials.
He envisions one or two challah bakes per month with the club, collaborating with other organizations and clubs on campus for socials and fundraisers, and maybe, eventually, branching out from challah.
“I don’t want to limit myself,” Schneider said, adding that he’d also love to make hummus, latkes (a traditional potato pancake) and hamantaschen (a triangle-shaped filled cookie associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim). “There’s a whole lot of leeway in terms of what we can do.”
Surprisingly enough, bread baking has been an outlet for Schneider to apply his major and what he’s learned at Cal Poly.
“Learn by Doing is completely relevant here. I had no prior baking experience and had to keep iterating my process, learning what works well, figuring out how to adapt and run a small business through Instagram,” Schneider said. “I had to deal with customers, the logistics of timing a delivery and that’s difficult.”
The highlight of Schneider’s challah process has been the support from the community — and seeing how many people are motivated to help others through food.
“Seeing how generous people are is actually the greatest thing,” Schneider said. “The challah is the catalyst to get them to act on their goodwill.”
And making challah has also helped Schneider stay connected to the lessons he learned from his family.
“What my grandparents have been teaching me is to always be generous and set aside time to do good for other people,” Schneider said. “This strengthens that part of me. I want to always find something to do where I can help others.”
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