By RANDLE CHRISTIAN
Super Bowl Sunday is just around the corner — a time for football, fellowship and feasting in homes across the country.
It’s also a day for Christian to remember the poor and hungry through Souper Bowl, a nationwide fund-raiser that benefits needy members of local communities.
On the weekend of the big game, scheduled for Jan. 25, churchgoers are asked to drop $1 in soup caldrons or bowls young people will have ready after services. This year, for the first time, worshipers are also asked to contribute one canned good.
It’s a simple way of helping others that can have a far-reaching impact. “Over 120 million people watch that game on TV,” said the Rev. Brad Smith, who created the Souper Bowl. “If a quarter of us donate that $1 and that canned good, that would generate $50 million in donations.”
Smith is an associate pastor at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia. He said the idea for the Souper Bowl came to him as he was preparing a pastoral prayer on the eve of a Super Bowl 10 years ago.
“Lord,” he prayed, “As we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us to be mindful of those who don’t even have a bowl of soup to eat.”
Smith thought that if such a diverse nation could unite for a football game, surely the Christian community could harness some of that spirit of togetherness for the benefit of their impoverished brothers and sisters.
Two years later, Smith and the Senior High Fellowship group at his church put together their first Souper Bowl. Having young people participate is important, Smith said. “They see and experience making a positive difference in the lives of others — loving God and loving their neighbor,” he said.
That first year, 22 churches in the Columbia area, including the Catholic parish of St. John Neumann, raised $5,700. The idea caught on quickly with other churches, and the next year it became a statewide event. In 1993, it went nationwide. Last year, 5,500 churches from all 50 states and Canada raised $1.1 million, bringing the total raised in eight years to more than $3 million.
Parishes decide which local group should receive the donations, Smith said. “We don’t touch the money. Each congregation sends the money directly to the soup kitchen, food bank or other charity that they choose.”
Smith hopes to have 10,000 churches participate this year. To help reach that goal, Campbell’s Soup Company is conducting a national publicity campaign. The Odyssey Cable Channel is also helping get the word out with a mailing to 30,000 congregations.
Advance registration is not required to participate in the Souper Bowl. Churches simply need to announce the collection to the congregation, collect the money, report the amount to the toll-free number (1-800-358-SOUP) and deliver their donation to the organization they select.
No one has to remain on the sidelines at this Souper Bowl. “The football game is a spectator sport,” Smith said. “This is not. This is for participants. We’re so divided as a country. The Souper Bowl highlights the good we can do if we come together.”
For more information about the Souper Bowl, visit their website at www.souperbowl.com or call 1-800-358-SOUP.