In 20 years of riding coattails of world’s biggest football game, charity has become a champion, too, raising more than $61 million
By ALLISON KENNEDY
While football fans turn their attention to Super Bowl XLIV, more than a quarter of a million teens are working to transform Super Bowl weekend into the nation’s largest youth-led weekend of giving and serving through the Souper Bowl of Caring.
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For weeks before the Saints-Colts match-up, Souper Bowl of Caring youth have been collecting donations through congregations and schools and donating 100 percent of their collection to a local charity of their choice. Many will also volunteer at their selected charity the day before the big game. Collections will be taken on “Souper Bowl Sunday” on Feb. 7.
This is the 20th year of the national program. In the previous years total, $61 million in money and food has been collected.
Asbury United Methodist Church is one of the local participants.
The Rev. Michael Johnson, associate pastor and youth minister, has led youth efforts there for about 15 years.
“It’s part of our ministry,” he said. “It’s part of what the Lord has commanded. We are committed to feeding the hungry and ‘the least of these.’ ”
Johnson said his group would soon decide which group or groups would receive their donations.
As they do each year, a local Christian coach is selected to give the message. The speaker this year will be Robert Moore, head basketball coach at Brookstone High School since 2006.
“We raise money and awareness for world hunger,” said Ciara Vance, 14, a ninth-grader at Brookstone School. She’s participated in the Asbury program since she was four. “It allows us to give back to the community.”
On the day of the Super Bowl, the youth and many adults from Asbury will wear their team jerseys — and not just from the Saints or the Colts.
Born from a prayer
Souper Bowl of Caring started with one church youth group in South Carolina in 1990 when a minister, the Rev. Brad Smith prayed: “Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those without even a bowl of soup to eat.”
From that prayer, the Souper Bowl of Caring was born and more than $50 million has been raised nationwide.
“For two decades, young people have been setting the standard for compassion and service through the Souper Bowl of Caring,” Smith, the founder and executive director said in a statement. “Now, more and more people across the country are catching on and joining this amazing effort.”
In 2009, 13,500 organizations collected more than $10.4 million. Every penny went to local organizations that help people in need. Souper Bowl of Caring organizers expect this year to be bigger than ever.
Another local church, Summerville United Methodist Church, has participated over the past few years.
At that congregation, giant containers from Campbell’s Soup are used to collect canned goods. About 100 people participate, said senior pastor the Rev. Judd Stinson.
“We’ve been collecting for several weeks,” said Stinson. “It crescendos (Feb. 7), but we’ve already been in the process of collecting.”
Stinson, who calls himself a devoted football fan, is pulling for the Saints.
“I love the Saints — the long-suffering Saints,” he said, joking about the obvious religious reference.
By using the weekend as a time to help others, youth are learning about the realities of hunger in their own neighborhoods and are turning one of the nation’s universal times of celebration and parties into an opportunity to care for those in need.
“Imagine the impact we could make if the 100 million Americans who tune in to the big game gave just $1 each to help someone in need,” said Smith. “I hope everyone will follow the lead of these young people and get involved this year.”