By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
When Loxi Hopkins of the diocesan Social Action office saw how much money had been raised for CRS Rice Bowl this year, her reaction was enthusiastic.
“Holy cow!,” she exclaimed, reflecting on the highest-ever diocesan Rice Bowl collection to date. The Lenten collection, which goes toward grants to hunger relief programs in the diocese and abroad, totaled $64,386.36 this year — nearly $11,000 more than the $53,831.40 raised in 2013.
For Hopkins, it was a validation that efforts made to increase the Lenten collection had, in a sense, paid off. After several years of stagnant donations, the Social Action office decided to try a kick-off breakfast before this year’s collection campaign. The 16 parishes represented at the breakfast accounted for about 75 percent of the total increase.
“People got excited at the breakfast,” Hopkins said, noting that it gave parishes an opportunity to support each other and share ideas on how to raise more money for Rice Bowl.
St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, where the breakfast took place, raised $2,910 for Rice Bowl this year. That’s an increase of $1,100 from last year, according to diocesan documents. Father Rudolph Juárez, the pastor, said he was pleasantly surprised with the result, which he attributed to prioritizing Rice Bowl as a special Lenten project.
Three additional parishes increased donations by more than $1,000 after attending the breakfast — Ss. Mary & Mathias in Muscatine, St. Joseph in Hills and St. Mary in Mechanicsville.
Because of the success of the January breakfast, Hopkins said the Social Action office plans to offer Rice Bowl kick-off breakfasts in locations throughout the diocese next winter.
Of the parishes not represented at the breakfast, St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf tripled its total contribution, increasing donations by $2,724 for a total of $3,919. St. John Vianney Office Manager Mary Kelly said parishioners didn’t plan any new projects to increase funds, but heard Father Robert McAleer, then pastor, talking about Rice Bowl earlier this year as a result of his impending retirement. “I think that made a difference and made people aware (of Rice Bowl),” Kelly said.
Additionally, Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish in Davenport increased donations by more than $1,000.
The increase in donations allowed the Social Action office to award more grants to its hunger relief beneficiaries. Diocesan programs receive 25 percent of the funds raised while CRS programs worldwide receive 75 percent. Mechanicsville’s St. Mary Parish saw almost half of its Rice Bowl donation return to the community, with a $500 grant going to the Mechanicsville Community Cupboard Food Pantry.
St. Mary Parish President Shirley Jarzombek said, “Because we have a successful food pantry here, it just makes hunger a much higher priority. Here’s another example of when we give more we receive more. It’s wonderful how it all played out.”
Hopkins said the increased awareness and subsequent donations for Rice Bowl this year helped people in need, and also provided a positive spiritual message to those participating. It gives donors the opportunity to really think about what their Lenten sacrifice can mean to others who don’t have a meal at the table, she said.
(Emmaline Jurgena contributed to this story)