For many Americans, partying will prevail as the Philadelphia Eagles kick off against the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6.
Yet on the other side of the world, victims of a devastating tsunami will still be mourning the loss of lives and homes, and waiting in food lines.
Such contrasts between pleasure and pain form the basis for the annual Souper Bowl of Caring. This national ecumenical effort involves youth groups that collect money and food for those in need, and is held in conjunction with the Super Bowl football game. Many parishes in the Diocese of Rochester traditionally take part in the Souper Bowl — so don’t be surprised to see young people posted by your church doorway this coming weekend, seeking donations after Masses.
In keeping with the “Souper Bowl” theme, collectors employ soup kettles. At Ss. Peter and Paul in Elmira, youth-group members also play up the “Super Bowl” angle, wearing football jerseys. Oribes Reis said he has fun being part of Ss. Peter and Paul’s annual effort, yet he never forgets the Souper Bowl’s chief purpose.
“The jerseys are cool but really, it’s to help other people in the community who are less fortunate,” remarked Oribes, 15.
According to Cecilia Ryan, Ss. Peter and Paul’s youth minister, overall collections have totaled nearly $10,000 since the Souper Bowl began in 1997. Another successful tradition is at St. Pius Tenth in Chili, where Karen Ludwig, youth minister, reports an annual Souper Bowl collection of nearly $1,500. “Our parish has been extremely generous,” she said.
Parishes designate Souper Bowl funds to the charities of their choice, usually within their own communities. For instance, Ss. Peter and Paul puts all its donations toward the Elmira Free Community Kitchen, a local soup kitchen.
However, this year several parishes have considered splitting their Souper Bowl proceeds, so they can aid people affected by the tsunami that struck much of Asia in late December. All Saints Parish in Lansing, for one, has earmarked part of its Souper Bowl monies toward the tsunami while also continuing its support of the local Task Force for Battered Women. At St. Mary of the Lake/St. Benedict’s, Watkins Glen/Odessa, Souper Bowl funds will go toward tsunami relief and the Schuyler Outreach, a local Catholic Charities food bank.
St. Pius Tenth, as well as Sacred Heart, Auburn/St. Ann’s, Owasco, are other parishes wishing to add tsunami assistance to its Souper Bowl list. Meanwhile, Ss. Peter and Paul’s youths held a separate fundraiser for tsunami victims in January.
The disaster has spurred greater awareness among teens about people in need, observed Anna Comitz, youth minister at Sacred Heart/St. Ann’s.
“I think that this year, the Souper Bowl might mean more. We’ve been touching on the issue of poverty around the world, and they’re going to have a deeper feeling about it,” Comitz said, noting that her parishes normally send all their Souper Bowl donations to Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
Souper Bowl of Caring has an optional component, a “Service Blitz,” which many youth groups perform the day before the Super Bowl. St. Pius Tenth, on the other hand, delays this segment until after Super Bowl Sunday. That way, service can be combined with the parish’s annual check presentation to St. Martin’s Place, a Rochester inner-city outreach.
Preparing and serving dinner for the impoverished at St. Martin’s Place, along with handing over the Souper Bowl check, have provided fond memories for St. Pius Tenth’s Vicky Briars.
“It was personally touching to me to see these people. They were so surprised; I don’t think they were expecting us to bring money to them,” said Vicky, 18, a freshman at SUNY Geneseo.
The Souper Bowl was founded in 1990 by a group of Presbyterian youths from South Carolina. It now operates in all 50 states as well as Canada, with $4,260,531 raised in 2004 by 12,759 organizations.
Oribes said he’d like to see the Souper Bowl grow even larger. “The more people give, the more (other) people have spiritually and physically,” he remarked.