Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.
When Joe Schneider learned how to braid challah as a child at Camp Kadima in the East Bay, no one would have guessed he would later apply that skill to do good in the world. Now in college, he’s turned his bread-making hobby into a way to give back.
Schneider, 19, is a second-year student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo majoring in economics. He grew up in Fremont attending Temple Beth Torah and served on the regional board of BBYO.
At home with his family during the pandemic last year, Schneider said his father encouraged him to make use of the family bread machine and to make challah for Shabbat dinners.
He began with a recipe his father chose.
“It turned out OK, but I began to think, I can do better than this,” he said.
The pandemic gave him plenty of time to perfect it. Week by week, he continued to tweak the recipe.
Schneider returned to San Luis Obispo in January, although his classes are still online. Living in a small apartment, he knew he wanted to continue baking. He thought about turning his pastime into a small business, but knew he’d only be taking in a small amount of money.
It could do the most good, he reasoned, if he gave the proceeds away. So he started an Instagram page, created an order form and started gaining followers (440 and counting).
“The first time I put up an order form, I sold out in two days,” he said.
Not only did he enjoy baking the challah, but he liked the fact that people he didn’t know were buying it.
“I thought it was cool that I was able to make new connections through this,” he said. So he kept on going.
He’s been making about 12 challahs each week, asking for a minimum $7 donation per loaf. Some customers give a few dollars more — and some give many dollars more. One week a buyer who was impressed with his work gave Schneider a $100 donation, upping the grand total that week to $257.
Schneider then turns around and donates the money to a different local nonprofit, with beneficiaries including a local food bank and SLO Street Medics, a first-responder group. He changes the nonprofit each week and updates the order form.
“I don’t really have a process around it,” he said. “I just kind of do some research and see who’s out there.”
Schneider says he likes the mission of the student organization Challah for Hunger (groups of students bake challah together and donate the proceeds to hunger-based charities), but he prefers being in control of where the money goes himself.
Since he’s still relatively new to the area, it’s a good way to learn about the place he lives, he said.
“I like to keep my impact local, and people can DM me on Instagram with suggestions,” he said. “I’m not doing this for the recognition, more to just help out.”
But he did get some recognition when the Mustang News, the campus news site, wrote about his endeavor.
Schneider buys the ingredients out of his own pocket, makes his challah dough using a bread machine, braids it and then bakes it in his oven. He would make more if not for his small apartment, he said. He also does the deliveries.
Someone gave him za’atar and nigella seeds purchased in an Israeli shuk, but he prefers to use locally grown eggs when he can, and flour from a local bakery that mills its own.
“The more local, the tastier it is to me,” he said.
Schneider also has found satisfaction in the connections he’s made while doing good.
“It’s meaningful to share it with my friends and give them a little taste of what Judaism is and do tzedakah through baking challah,” he said. “It’s therapeutic for me to create the dough, and seeing that the bread I make makes people happy.”
One of those happy people is his grandmother, who often ate his challah during the pandemic when the family pod got together. So proud was she that she told J. about her grandson.
Not only is his challah “magnificently delicious,” said Ann Gitlis of Emeryville, but “what a great thing he’s doing. He loves figuring out which charity to give to each week, and with giving you receive, too. I’m very proud of how he just got an idea, and it mushroomed from there.”