By Rebecca Lerman
It was never a shock to anyone when they found me hanging out at Penn State Hillel in between classes or during lunch. As a student these past four years, I went there regularly to chat with my friends and the Hillel staff.
Often, those innocuous hangouts led to deep conversations about my hopes and dreams, my fears and insecurities, my passions and my goals. Those conversations were enriching, inspiring and even empowering.
One such conversation sticks out in my memory, and it continues to have an impact on me today. It began over a Jewish proverb, ‘iron sharpens iron,’ shared with me by Hillel’s assistant director. He explained that in every conversation and interaction that I have, I am sharpened by someone else.
Whether that encounter is positive or negative, there is opportunity to find meaning, to learn something and to grow.
I began asking myself how I could grow in a way that incorporated two of my greatest passions – tikkun olam (repairing the world) and community engagement.
While on a summer break at home in Pittsburgh last year, I discovered a new project taking root in the community. In residential yards, public parks, and community centers were birdhouses full of books donated by community members for community members. These birdhouses were called Little Libraries, and the project built community, sparked creativity and inspired readers. I thought that it would be a worthwhile idea to add new pantries stocked not with books, but with food.
Through research, I discovered that according to do some. One in six Americans are hungry, meaning, for a sustained period, they are unable to eat sufficient food to meet basic nutritional needs. While I never gave purchasing food with my meal points a second thought in college, I learned that, according to recent surveys, one in four students are not only facing similar academic pressures, but also worrying about their next meal.