Super Bowl XLII was a victory for the underdogs, in more ways than one.
On the playing field, the New York Giants earned a 17-14 upset win Feb. 3 over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots. Then there are the day-in-and-day-out underdogs — people far removed from the Super Bowl’s glitz and glamor. They don’t rake in megabucks like Eli Manning or Tom Brady, nor do have they gigantic budgets to spend on a Super Bowl television ad. Their hope is not for a football win, but to simply have food in their stomachs.
The good news is that these underdogs will once again receive millions of dollars in assistance through the “Souper Bowl of Caring.” This national charitable initiative, held since 1990, included recent participation by numerous parish youth and faith-formation groups in the Southern Tier as well as the rest of the Diocese of Rochester.
Souper Bowl of Caring encourages churches of all denominations to take up cash and food collections for the hungry in conjunction with Super Bowl weekend. Young people typically stand at church entranceways, holding soup bowls or kettles to receive donations. Rose Bennett, faith-formation director at Blessed Sacrament Parish’s St. Anthony and St. Patrick churches in Elmira, noted that youths at her churches wore their favorite team’s hats and shirts Feb. 3 while catechists emphasized the theme “We Are On God’s Team” and that Jesus is the “head coach.”
Parishes designate Souper Bowl funds to the charities of their choice, usually within their own communities. Bennett said St. Anthony/St. Patrick this year collected $932, bringing their cumulative seven-year total to more than $5,000. For the past five years the parishes have donated proceeds to the St. Anthony/St. Patrick food pantry, which is housed next door to the parish offices at St. Patrick. Meanwhile, Ss. Peter and Paul Church — the other Elmira worship site in Blessed Sacrament Parish — forwards its annual Souper Bowl collection to the Elmira Community Kitchen, located in the church’s parish center.
In other parts of the Tier, junior- and senior-high youth groups at Apalachin’s St. Margaret Mary Church collected $453 for Tioga County Rural Ministry in Owego, while youths at Holy Cross Parish in Dryden brought in $271 for the Dryden Kitchen Cupboard. Lacy Park, Holy Cross’ faith-formation director, noted that her parish took the Souper Bowl’s wordplay on Super Bowl one step further by offering a “Soup or Bowl” incentive. Participants who brought in five cans of soup each earned a bowling trip. Park said the strong response produced approximately 200 cans of soup and enabled 38 youths to go bowling Feb. 3 at 281 Bowl in Cortland.
Souper Bowl of Caring was founded by a group of Presbyterian youths from South Carolina. It now operates as an ecumenical effort in all 50 states as well as Canada, and has raised more than $41 million since its inception. According to the Souper Bowl Web site at www.souperbowl.org, more than 8,000 participating groups had reported proceeds of nearly $5 million in cash and food within the first few days of this year’s effort.
Local Souper Bowl organizers said the initiative maintains a focus that stands in stark contrast to other aspects of Super Bowl Sunday.
“While we have plenty and are enjoying the game, many around us are hungry,” remarked Sue White, youth minister at St. Margaret Mary in Apalachin.
“It kind of puts things in perspective — to give to the poor in our own community, as we all spend so much on our parties and watch all of the million-dollar 30-second commercials,” Bennett said.
Park added that she’s concerned about our society’s tendency to devote a disproportionate level of attention to celebrities and superstar athletes.
“Many times we forget what is really important in life and what God wants for us. He wants us to care for the sick, hungry, poor and reflect on what we can do in our lives to enrich the circumstances of those in need,” she said. “I have to admit I do get carried away with the big sporting events and hype of the famous, but I have to remind myself that there are other important events that can help others, like the Souper Bowl collection.”