January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day. That date was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. At this Nazi death camp, and others like it, millions of people of the Jewish faith suffered unspeakable atrocities, including systemic starvation.
We acknowledge and condemn the traumatic events of the Holocaust. We also have a connection with the Holocaust in another way. Our Food For Thought program, which includes Thea’s Table, continues the legacy of Thea Aschkenase, a Holocaust survivor.
Thea survived many types of abuse at Auschwitz and other death camps, including extreme hunger. In later life, she shared her story with many students, always encouraging them to get involved in anti-hunger work in their communities. Over the years, the level of involvement she inspired ranged from hosting a canned food drive to entire schools taking up her message in a more significant way by creating permanent programs to ensure their students and families had enough nutritious food to eat.
Inspired by her mother’s anti-hunger work, Thea’s daughter Lea founded a grassroots organization called Food For Thought to help Madison-area public schools run their own food pantries. In addition, Food For Thought ran a program called Thea’s Table, which focused on providing ready-to-eat meals for families experiencing homelessness or other crises. Even if a family was staying in their car and had yet to connect to any other services, they could get food from Thea’s Table that could be prepared without a kitchen. School-based pantries are a great way to support families experiencing hunger because students and families often have trusting relationships with school staff and a means of transportation to and from school.
Now, the Food For Thought programs are run by Second Harvest Foodbank. To honor the legacy of the woman who inspired them, we also administer the Thea Aschkenase Endowment for Food For Thought. This permanent fund generates resources for our work in schools throughout the region, year after year. Click here if you want to invest in our work in area schools and be part of Thea’s inspiring legacy.
While supporting Thea’s work is an excellent way to honor Holocaust Memorial Day, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge that genocides like the Holocaust continue to this day in various parts of the world, like Sudan. And the monsters perpetrating these heinous acts continue to use starvation as one of many tactics to achieve their goal. We encourage you to learn more about past and present genocides through the following links: