When Lent began on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday, so too did Catholic Relief Services’ annual Operation Rice Bowl campaign.
Diocesan Catholics of all ages raised more than $78,000 during last year’s Lenten campaign of prayer, fasting, learning and giving. Through this seven-week program, participants are encouraged to contribute money to help alleviate poverty and hunger both globally and locally.
While all parishioners are encouraged to participate in the program, teens have an added incentive to take part this year. In early February Sue Versluys, diocesan youth-ministry coordinator, announced the new Operation Rice Bowl Challenge for parish youth groups. Youth-group members participating in this challenge are encouraged to save some money each week and then pool their money at weekly youth-group meetings. Teens, for example, might save the loose change they’d ordinarily spend on ice cream or candy at school and instead put that money toward Operation Rice Bowl, Versluys said.
Each week the youth ministers will e-mail their collection totals to Versluys, who will keep a running tally, graph the results each week and send the graph to the youth ministers so they can see how much money each group has collected. The youth group that collects the most money by April 13, the day after Easter, will receive $100 for its scholarship fund, Versluys said.
This challenge is a natural extension of the global-solidarity theme from the 2008 Diocesan Youth Convention last November, Versluys said. The topic of global solidarity has been close to Versluys’ heart since April 2008, when she took a trip to Nigeria through CRS and the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
"After I was in Africa and saw the poverty and saw the hunger and the thirst and the need, it’s just one of those things that stayed with me," Versluys said. "If I can get other people to be aware of that and respond to those needs, then I’m doing my job."
Kim Pozniak, communications officer for CRS’ U.S. operations, said the agency is interested in seeing how the challenge plays out.
"This sounds like a great initiative. We’ve heard of individual schools doing similar things but not of anything like this on a diocesan level," Pozniak said.
The young people from Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick parishes in Tioga County already are looking forward to the Operation Rice Bowl Challenge, said Kathy Hamilton, the parishes’ youth-ministry coordinator.
"We had just finished a food fast in January for CRS and we thought it would be a great way to continue that message on in Lent," she said.
"The Operation Rice Bowl program provides a good way for Catholics of all ages to engage in the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving while at the same time cultivating a new awareness of their call to global solidarity as members of the body of Christ," noted Kathy Dubel, diocesan Operation Rice Bowl coordinator.
The program provides a Lenten experience that’s at once personal and communal, and it gives people the opportunity to respond to global and local poverty and hunger, she said. Seventy-five percent of the funds collected each year are sent to CRS to support global development, hunger and food-related projects, while 25 percent of the funds collected in each county are allocated for hunger-relief projects within that county.
This means, Dubel said, that $19,595.25 of the total $78,381.89 went directly toward local projects. Parishes and schools in Monroe County, for example, raised $47,085.50, so $11,771.37 was distributed to 19 ministries in Monroe County, including St. Peter’s Kitchen, Bethany House and St. Martin’s Place, all in Rochester
Other local ministries that benefitted from Operation Rice Bowl funds include the Samaritan Center in Elmira, Catholic Charities of Livingston County, Canandaigua Churches in Action, the Seneca County House of Concern, Angel Food Ministries at St. Mary Parish in Bath, the Trumansburg Food Pantry, Penn Yan Food for the Needy, the Newark Food Closet, and Catholic Charities’ food pantries in Schuyler and Tioga counties.
Operation Rice Bowl materials provided in diocesan parishes include cardboard "rice bowls" in which families can collect spare change and other donations. Many families place these bowls on their dinner tables, thus fostering a spirit of thanksgiving at meal time and a visual reminder of how they can help other families, Dubel said.
"Operation Rice Bowl provides the Catholic community with a concrete way to live in solidarity with brothers and sisters and to partner with Catholic Relief Services to build hope and friendship around the world," she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information, visit Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl Web site at http://orb.crs.org.