LOUISVILLE - As National Football League playoff teams clash for the right to advance to the Super Bowl, participants in another big game will be teaming up later this month to fight hunger and poverty.
But the players in this match-up, the annual Souper Bowl of Caring, won't need helmets.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26, young people from 15,000 congregations are expected to participate in the Souper Bowl by asking parishioners to drop $1 and canned goods in soup pots to help hungry and hurting people in their communities.
The program has raised about $16.6 million for charities like food banks and soup kitchens since its inception in 1990. Organizers hope this year to get 15,000 congregations involved and raise $4 million.
"We believe the Souper Bowl concept is a gift from God," said the Rev. Brad Smith, a Presbyterian minister who started the fund-raiser 13 years ago in Columbia, SC. "Our role is to enable young people all over the country to put God's love in action and to allow every dollar they collect to directly impact the charities they care most about."
Last year, 10,000 churches raised $3.1 million in all 50 states, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Puerto Rico and the Marshall Islands. That total was down slightly from $3.6 million in 2001.
More than 2,100 Presbyterian churches took part, generating $703,767, up slightly from $696,000 the previous year.
The groups that participate are asked only to report their totals, so that a national figure can be calculated. All the money raised is given to local charities by the groups who raise it.
"The Souper Bowl of Caring encourages youth," said Smith. "It helps them see they can make a difference in the world and have a positive impact on the lives of others."
Organizers hope to bring congregations to the kettles with a Souper Bowl Service Blitz on Saturday, Jan. 25, when church youth groups are encouraged to volunteer in local soup kitchens, food banks and related charities.
The idea is to promote the Souper Bowl while getting young people involved in the fight against hunger. Last year about 500 groups and 7,000 young people participated in the second Souper Bowl Service Blitz.
For a free mini-poster explaining the Service Blitz and the Souper Bowl, call 1-800-358-SOUP (7687). The program's home page, www.souperbowl.org, has resources, including Bible studies and prayers, to enhance participation.
By Evan Silverstein