RICHMOND, Va. — As football fans donned jerseys in support of the New England Patriots and the New York Giants on Sunday, Feb. 5, thousands across the Mid-Atlantic marked the day of the NFL’s championship game by providing food and donations to support local charities that feed the hungry. Since 1990 young people have generated $81 million for soup kitchens, food banks and other charities in their communities through the Souper Bowl of Caring [http://www.souperbowl.org/].
A simple prayer, “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl foot ball game, help us to be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat,” delivered by Brad Smith, then a seminary intern at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., in 1990, has inspired a youth-led movement to combine football and fun with the joy and satisfaction of giving and serving.
The following year 22 churches in South Carolina joined Spring Valley in raised $5,700 to feed the hungry. By 1993 the Souper Bowl of Caring had spread to churches and schools in 36 states.
According to its website, in 2011 more than 260,000 youth from all 50 states participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring, collecting more than $9.5 million in donations and food for 10,173 charities. The goal for 2012 is to empower 275,000 young people to collect $11 million in cash and food items. Churches and other participating organizations take proceeds directly to a local hunger-related ministry of their choice. The national office of Souper Bowl of Caring in Columbia, S.C., compiles a report of what has been done and given.
The student ministry at Hampton (Va.) Baptist Church [http://www.hamptonbaptist.org/] has supported this event for the past four years, according to Chris Kurtz, associate pastor. Students hold large soup pots at the doors as members exit the worship service and collect donations. Kurtz reports this year they received $1,543 in donations and 10 bags of food items.
Hampton Baptists’ proceeds support three local ministries, the Hampton Ecumenical Provisions and Lodging (H.E.L.P.), the Hampton Baptist Soup Kitchen and A Night’s Welcome, a ministry where local churches partner with H.E.L.P. to house the homeless during the coldest months of the year.
Meals on Wheels was selected to receive canned food and $503 in cash donations from West Lynchburg (Va.) Baptist Church [http://www.wlbc.org/]. A Souper Bowl of Caring lunch with chili and soups donated by members was sponsored by teens at West Lynchburg, according to Vance Matthews, minister of students.
The youth at Smithfield (Va.) Baptist Church [http://smithfieldbaptist.org/] have participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring for the past seven years. On Feb. 5 they collected 75 canned goods and $67 which will be given to the Mission of Hope Homeless Shelter, according to Timothy Lipp, minister of youth and children.
A lunch of homemade soup, sandwiches and desserts to raise funds for a youth mission trip took place the same day at Berryville (Va.) Baptist Church [http://berryvillebaptist.org/]. Members were asked to bring canned foods for the Souper Bowl of Caring, says pastor Dan Stanley, and over 600 cans were donated to FISH, a local food ministry in Berryville.
The Acteens, a mission organization for girls in grades 7-12, at Falling River Baptist Church [http://www.frbconline.org/] in Brookneal, Va., collected 204 cans and packages of soup products and $427.89 this year. The girls provided a lunch with soup and sandwiches followed by a program on human exploitation led by Laura McDaniel, executive director of Women’s Missionary Union of Virginia. According to Nona Puckett, Acteens leader, three other churches participated in the event.
The Brookneal Emergency Assistance Ministry (BEAM) and the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen will benefit from the church’s donations. Acteens volunteer at the soup kitchen during the year, Puckett reports.
Souper cities are those that have previously hosted Super Bowl games, those from which the Souper Bowl of Caring receives support from the home NFL team and its founding city of Columbia, S.C. Many young people volunteer in city-wide service blitzes on the Saturday prior to the big game in these cities.
Because Charlotte, N.C., has hosted a Super Bowl, it’s a Souper city. Myers Park Baptist Church [http://www.mpbconline.org/] there was the host site on Sat., Feb. 4, serving breakfast to students who heard from Steve Israel, a retired NFL player, about the plight of the impoverished in Charlotte. Then teens were dispersed to 23 service projects around the city, serving at food banks, homeless shelters and local crisis ministries until mid-afternoon.
According to its website, as of Feb. 21, 7,756 groups have reported $8,026,120 in cash and food items for the Souper Bowl of Caring 2012. And the numbers continue to climb as a weekend of celebrating football has grown to also be a weekend of tackling hunger and serving others.
Barbara Francis (email@example.com) is a staff writer for the Religious Herald.