At the start of the Lenten season, parishes and Catholic schools around the Davenport Diocese distribute small, unfolded cardboard boxes for families to assemble into Rice Bowls.
Throughout Lent, they’ll fill the bowls with coins and bills as part of the almsgiving tradition of the season and read reflections provided by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which organizes the Rice Bowl project. CRS also provides information with the bowls about projects that help people in more than 100 countries to improve their lives.
Last year, the Davenport Diocese collected more than $48,000 through the Operation Rice Bowl project. Seventy-five percent of the funds collected go to CRS to help with overseas development projects. Twenty-five percent stays in the diocese to support local efforts to fight hunger and poverty.
Twelve nonprofit groups in the diocese received grants from the $12,300 local share of last year’s Operation Rice Bowl collection. Kathy McCoy, volunteer coordinator of the diocese’s Rice Bowl program, says her goal for this year is $60,000 in collections.
“If 100 families in each parish in the diocese collect just $10 in their Rice Bowls, we can surpass even that amount. Not only can we increase our donation to Catholic Relief Services, we can fund more projects within our diocese where needs are also great,” McCoy says.
Two groups in the diocese that received Operation Rice Bowl grants last year serve very different populations, she points out.
The Diversity Center of Iowa, located in Muscatine, provides a warm, healthy meal twice a month, March through November, to Hispanic senior citizens. One meal each month is funded by a grant from the Operation Rice Bowl collection.
Staff member Alicia Mendoza says that the most important aspect of the meals is the socialization. “Most of the seniors are low income and are isolated because of limited English skills. A number are diabetic or have other health issues and the meals are an opportunity to present information that is helpful to their lives,” she says. The meals also provide an opportunity for the Diversity Center to stay connected to the seniors so that they can help meet their needs.
Project Renewal, which has provided a safe, stable and caring environment for Davenport’s central city neighborhood children for 35 years, also received an Operation Rice Bowl grant in 2009.
The grant provides funds to purchase healthy snacks for an after-school program with a special emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. Project Renewal Director Ann Schwickerath says the children enjoy fruits and vegetables, and donations of these items are always welcome.
“The children are hungry when they come to Project Renewal after school. They have eaten lunch at school at 11:30 a.m. and there are some who will not get another good meal at home in the evening,” she notes.
After the snack, the children do homework. Project Renewal staff and volunteers emphasize the importance of school and support the children in getting to and from lessons and activities. Schwickerath says the program operates like a family, with staff and volunteers providing the kinds of support many children may not receive in their families.