By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
As Kent Ferris learned about the impact of last year’s CRS Rice Bowl collection, he realized that impoverished youths locally and in third world countries were benefitting from the donations in strikingly similar ways.
One of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) programs in Honduras offers tutoring and sustenance to students. At Project Renewal in Davenport, funds from Rice Bowl have helped fund after-school and summer programs which also include nutritious meals and snacks.
“I began to see the parallels in what can be accomplished by way of this donation both internationally and locally,” said Ferris, the director of the diocesan Social Action office. “The support for education and nutrition are evident in both.”
The familiar colorful, cardboard Rice Bowl banks are back in parish vestibules and meeting spaces just in time for Lent, ready to accept donations for CRS Rice Bowl. Ferris said people are more likely to donate if they know where the donations are going, and the Social Action office is again beefing up efforts to increase parish awareness of the program and its impact.
Rice Bowl is a program which encourages prayer, fasting, almsgiving and awareness of global poverty. Twenty-five percent of funds collected in the diocese stay in the diocese; 75 percent go to CRS programs around the world. Donations fund a myriad of projects intended to empower people to overcome poverty and hunger.
Contributions from Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport set records in 2014 and 2015, which Ferris said was due in large part to better training of parish Rice Bowl coordinators. Rice Bowl kick-off breakfasts in the diocese have provided coordinators an opportunity to share ideas and learning opportunities about Rice Bowl. Parishes in Coralville and Albia served as host sites this year.
Parish Rice Bowl coordinators are finding unique ways to promote the fundraising effort in their parishes, Ferris said, adding that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to educating people about Rice Bowl. For example, this year St. John Vianney Parish-Bettendorf Rice Bowl coordinators designed and built a supersized collection box that will be displayed in the gathering space. “It’s a way to build awareness for Rice Bowl,” said Ken Miller, who completed the woodworking portion of the oversized bowl. He noted that people often assume that Rice Bowl funds only provide nutritional support, which is not the case. Parish leaders can help to respond to such misconceptions.
Other parishes have distributed paper materials at religious education events and Bible studies, built large map displays or have invited children to come up towards the altar during Mass to drop change into a “clinking” metal bowl in order to draw attention to the program. “(Parish leaders) really know best how promotional materials can be shared within their parish communities,” Ferris said.
This year, for the first time, the Social Action office is creating a video with testimonies from local Rice Bowl grant recipients and a special message from Bishop Martin Amos. This video, upon completion, will be posted on the diocesan website and social media sites. The Catholic Messenger will also post the video on Facebook and Twitter. Ferris said DVD copies of the video will be available upon request.
To increase participation among Hispanic Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport, the Social Action office and Multicultural Ministry office organized a bilingual conference call with parish Hispanic community leaders. The Multicultural Ministry office is also working to provide subtitles for a Spanish version of the testimonial video.
Ferris expressed gratitude for everyone who is helping to make 2016 another record collection year. “We are grateful they’re willing to take the information and share it.”