Irv and Nancy Chase remember the exact moment they fell in love with Chapman University and its mission.
In 2005, the couple were invited by friends and longtime Chapman supporters Sue and Ralph Stern to a dinner commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp – an event at which Chapman University Presidential Fellow Elie Wiesel spoke. Before the meal began, then-President Jim Doti, Ph.D., recited the blessing over the challah, the bread traditionally eaten by Jewish people on Shabbat. “We were incredibly impressed with Dr. Doti reciting the blessing over the bread – in Hebrew, no less – which he had baked himself,” Irv Chase said.
That single loaf of bread became a poignant force multiplier for the couple’s longstanding efforts to provide food and care for vulnerable and under-resourced members of society.
On March 31, Chapman announced a $1.5 million gift from Irv and Nancy, along with Nancy’s parents Sandy and the late Allan Fainbarg, to perpetually endow Chapman’s food pantry, the Panther Pantry. This gift ensures that no current or future Chapman student will have to suffer from food insecurity.
This major gift to Chapman is the third announced in as many months as part of Inspire: The Campaign for Chapman University. The public phase of the campaign was launched on Feb. 10 with the goal of raising $500 million by 2028. So far, more than $320 million has been raised.
“Irv, Nancy, and Sandy’s generous gift to Chapman’s food pantry alleviates food insecurity and allows students to focus on their education. We are so grateful for all they do for Chapman students,” said Lisa Argyros, who is co-chair of the Inspire campaign along with Jim Mazzo.
Food Insecurity Among College Students Is a National Issue
The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. In 2021, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice Basic Needs Survey found that 29% of students at four-year colleges experienced food insecurity during the ongoing pandemic.
Students who experience hunger tend to have lower grades than their counterparts and withdraw from school before completing their program.
At Chapman, approximately 400 students access the food pantries at the university’s Orange and Rinker Campuses.
“Many people are unaware that 84% of students receive some form of financial aid to access a Chapman education,” said Irv Chase. “We want all students to be able to concentrate on their education – it’s the only way up.”
“When students are uncertain about where and when they will get their next meal, it not only affects their health and personal life, it also greatly disrupts their ability to function at their best academically,” said Jerry Price, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Chapman. “This generous gift to our food pantry program will enhance what we can offer to students and help ensure that the pantries are adequately stocked, staffed and readily accessible to those students who need them.
The Panther Pantry – with locations on both the Orange and Rinker campuses – provides an assortment of healthy meal options. It is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides canned, boxed and refrigerated foods. It has microwaves for those who do not have one where they live, and there is a wide variety of food to meet the needs of students with allergies and dietary restrictions.
Students are given a confidential way to identify themselves as food insecure to gain access to the food pantry for as long as they need.
The number of students facing food insecurity and other significant challenges is growing, and meeting this expanding need requires not just an abundant and consistent supply of food but also an appropriate food-pantry infrastructure. In addition to food, the endowment will provide funds for adequate shelving, refrigeration, cooking appliances and reliable staffing. Additionally, the pantry will also now be able to offer other living essentials to students, such as deodorant, toothpaste and other basic hygiene items.
Nancy Chase has long been involved with organizations that work to provide housing and address homelessness and poverty. A retired elementary school teacher, she serves on several philanthropic boards and is actively involved with Families Forward, an organization helping homeless families.
“Nobody should have to worry about a meal. We want all students to be able to focus on their education so that they can graduate and excel at the same rates as their counterparts,” she said. Together with their parents, Sandy and Allan, the family previously established the Fainbarg Chase Thrive Center, the food pantry at Santa Ana College.
Chapman Family a ‘Good Match’
After the meaningful encounter at the Holocaust memorial event, Irv and Nancy met Marilyn Harran, Ph.D., Stern Chair in Holocaust Education, director of the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library, and founding director of The Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education.
“When we walked out of her office, we looked at each other and knew we had to do something,” said Irv. “We fell in love with Marilyn and her work, which solidified our immediate decision to get involved with Chapman.”
“We knew Chapman was a good match,” Nancy added.
Their first philanthropic project was the Indestructible Spirit memoir and photography project, which is on display near the Rodgers Center. Students helped preserve the stories of dozens of Holocaust survivors, whose photographs were taken by award-winning photographer Bill Aron. The project is one of several initiatives that helped elevate national awareness of the Rodgers Center in its earlier years.
In 2011, the couple created The Irving and Nancy Chase Endowed Professorship in Holocaust and Jewish History. Irv joined the Board of Trustees that same year and has since served on the University Advancement; Audit, Finance and Budget; and Compensation and Presidential Assessment Committees, becoming chair of the Advancement Committee in 2016.
For Irv, the commitment to Chapman is personal.
“From day one, Chapman was a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere that was committed to the free exchange of ideas,” he said. “We love the school, we love the faculty and students, we love the administrators. It feels like a family here. The Chapman Family.”