Claremont Challah aims to serve up a sweet community

Students stand in line to purchase challah in brown paper bags.
Claremont Challah sells freshly baked challah every Thursday evening and Friday morning at Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center. (Wendy Zhang • The Student Life)

If the excited lines at Pomona College’s Smith Campus Center last Thursday didn’t give it away, Claremont Challah is back and sweeter than ever. With the debut of a strawberry jam flavor alongside classics like cinnamon sugar and pesto parmesan, students can once again count on a tasty treat to celebrate the end of the week.  

With the help of 5C volunteers, the club bakes and sells fresh loaves of challah, a Jewish bread, every Thursday night and Friday morning. Challah’s presence on campus has only continued to grow since the club made its comeback last fall, but it’s been a community favorite for years

“My freshman year the lines were also super long, and post-pandemic last year they were even crazier,” club president Virna Seminario PO ’23 said. “Food can be a very powerful way to unite a community.”

Like many other students, Seminario got involved with Challah because she loved baking and wanted to engage with the 5C community in the way that this club does.

“In high school, baking and cooking was a huge stress reliever for me,” she said. “When I got on campus, the one club that could offer me that was Challah. I thought it was a great opportunity to meet new people and get involved on campus.”

She has served on the club’s executive board for almost three years now. This means she spearheaded the revival of the club last fall after its hiatus during the online 2020-2021 academic year, aiming to satisfy both returning and first-time customers.

“Relaunching Challah was a bit of a challenge given that there were so many precautions that had to be taken for COVID and food safety,” Seminario said. Challah’s home has always been Frary, but the whole of last year we baked out of Frank because it was easier for Pomona dining hall services, so we had to accommodate that.”

This past week, the bakers faced a learning curve as they settled back into the Frary kitchen. Sarah Meilinger PO ’23, one of the head bakers, admitted that the first week wasn’t without its challenges — but they’re rolling with it.

All of us were trying to either fully get acquainted or reacquainted with the kitchen,” she said. “There was definitely some fumbling around in the dark.”

But this adjustment didn’t detract from the fun of baking alongside other excited students, an experience which encouraged her to get involved in the first place.

“Being in the kitchen and getting to know the staff and how that all works is amazing. And then my favorite part is also meeting people,” Meilinger said. “In selling, you get to interact with all the people who lined up to purchase the bread, and you also get to meet all of the volunteers — it’s really amazing to meet people who are passionate enough to help.”

And that passion for helping others is what lies at the core of Challah’s mission; at the end of each semester, Challah collects input from students, volunteers and members of the E-board and elects a handful of causes to donate their profits to. 

Seminario explains that social justice is part of the reason so many people, including herself, are so invested in the club. 

“For a lot of people at the [Claremont] Colleges, social justice and social action was part of the reason why they came here,” Seminario said. “The impact … really does matter, and we take the causes we donate to really seriously. And because we are a community-based club, we want to make sure that the people in our community have a say of where our proceeds go.”

Challah raised $7,000 last fall, and some of the chosen organizations included Food Forward, Inland Harvest, Alianza Coachella Valley and LA Food Policy Council.

“The idea that, as students, we’re able to use our flex dollars and that money, the profits, are able to go into the community, is really important to me and also the club as a whole. It’s our entire mission,” Meilinger said.

Though Claremont Challah doesn’t set monetary goals for each semester, bringing the 5C community together is one of their priorities. 

“It can definitely be a little intimidating to know that people from Harvey Mudd have trekked down to Pomona to purchase the bread,” Meilinger said. “But making sure we have a 5C presence just so everyone knows that we’re here is really nice.”

To get involved with Claremont Challah and keep up with their latest flavors, check out @challah_gram on Instagram.

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