CHICAGO -- Before gathering with family and friends on the National Football League's (NFL) "Super Bowl Sunday" Jan. 26, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will huddle and go on the offense to attack hunger.
On the day of the Super Bowl, congregations of the ELCA and other faith groups will participate in the "Souper Bowl of Caring," a national effort aimed at raising millions of dollars for soup kitchens, food banks and other hunger-fighting organizations across the country.
"Tonight and every night millions of children around the world will go to bed hungry. One child in five in the United States lives in poverty," said Stephen Padre, associate director for hunger and disaster appeal communication, ELCA Department for Communication.
The goal for the 2003 Souper Bowl of Caring, now in its 14th year, is to raise $4 million. Last year, Lutheran congregations raised nearly $500,000 for local and national hunger organizations, including the annual ELCA World Hunger Appeal, Padre said.
Young members of the ELCA will take the lead in collecting dollars in large soup pots as parishioners leave worship the morning of the championship football game. Each congregation will select and send contributions directly to a charity of their choice.
Organizers will report their results on game day by visiting www.souperbowl.org -- the Souper Bowl of Caring's Web site, or by calling 1-800-358-SOUP. The national totals will be posted on the Web site. About 10,000 faith groups and congregations collected $3.1 million in the 2002 Souper Bowl of Caring.
To help kick off the 2003 Souper Bowl of Caring, some congregations will organize a "service blitz" before Jan. 26. The service blitz is designed to encourage youth groups to work at a hunger ministry in their area, both to benefit the ministry and increase awareness of the Souper Bowl.
Souper Bowl of Caring began when the Rev. Brad Smith, serving as youth pastor for Spring Valley Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C., made reference to the NFL's Super Bowl Sunday as "Souper Bowl" Sunday in a prayer. The senior youth fellowship of the congregation took the pun in earnest, and a national effort to fight hunger was born. Smith now serves full-time as executive director of Souper Bowl of Caring.
To prepare for the 2003 Souper Bowl, the 10,766 congregations of the ELCA received packets containing resources and ideas for youth groups and others to plan for the event. The packet was produced by the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and the Lutheran Youth Organization (LYO), Padre said. Housed in the ELCA's Division for Congregational Ministries, LYO represents more than 500,000 high-school age members of the ELCA in the United States and Caribbean.
"LYO is thinking big," said Padre. Young people have challenged themselves to raise more than $1 million in quarters to fight hunger and poverty in God's world. This is an awesome goal, but it is "doable" if all ELCA youth, from Alaska to the U.S. Virgin Islands, work together, he said.
About 40,000 high-school age Lutherans are expected to attend the ELCA Youth Gathering, July 16-20 and July 23-27, in Atlanta. Their goal is to collect three rolls of quarters from each person and dump them in a giant container. They will add up their quarters and send a check to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, said Padre.
Young people "not attending the gathering are being encouraged to participate in the quarter collection and send a check to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal," he said.
"Quarters make a difference," Padre said. "Four quarters feed an orphaned teen for a day. Forty quarters feed a baby living in a refugee camp for a month. Four hundred quarters plant fruit trees in a school garden. One thousand quarters provide a pair of barnyard goats; and 20,000 quarters support an irrigation project that feeds a whole village for a month."
Funds collected from the challenge will support "the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and 'Stand With Africa: A Campaign of Hope,' a Lutheran campaign that focuses on banishing hunger and building peace in sub- Saharan Africa. Stand With Africa relates to the ELCA Youth Gathering theme, 'Ubuntu!' The LYO and ELCA World Hunger Appeal share common emphases on Africa," Padre added.
By Albert H. Lee