By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, “We need to think outside the bowl,” diocesan Social Action office volunteer Amy Kersten said of the upcoming CRS Rice Bowl collection. “Lent will be here before we know it.”
Earlier this month, Kersten and others involved with the annual Lenten collection participated in a virtual Lunch and Learn conversation. Each year, 75 percent of Rice Bowl collections help ease hunger in vulnerable countries. The remaining 25 percent helps ease food insecurity in the Diocese of Davenport.
The pandemic thwarted last year’s collection efforts midway through Lent. Loxi Hopkins, a volunteer with the diocesan Social Action office, said 2020 totals were less than half of the previous year’s collection. Meanwhile, local need for food assistance grew due to pandemic-related job losses. “That’s why it’s so important to lift those numbers up. The need has never been so great in our diocese, I believe, as it has been this year. The number of calls looking for assistance has grown.”
Regan Michaelsen, executive director of Information Referral and Assistance Services in Clinton, explained to Lunch and Learn participants that the number of people asking for assistance has increased dramatically during the pandemic. For many years, the organization has benefitted from diocesan Rice Bowl funds. The agency served 500 to 600 people a month prior to the pandemic. “Now, it’s not uncommon to get 20 calls a day or more from people requesting food assistance,” she said.
While the pandemic likely will continue to limit in-person interactions this Lent (which starts Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17), people are more accustomed to working within these limitations than they were a year ago. Kersten believes that idea sharing and easily accessible resources —including a working document of ideas —will help parishes and schools reach their Rice Bowl goals this year.
Local and regional Rice Bowl leaders brainstormed during the Jan. 7 Lunch and Learn. Jackie Perkins, a Social Action committee member of St. Anthony Parish-Knoxville, said the parish usually hosts Lenten luncheons with presentations about the countries served by CRS, using recipes found in CRS Rice Bowl materials. The ongoing pandemic could make that type of event impossible, she said. Lunch and Learn participants suggested providing meal-to-go kits and having a communal meal and information session on Zoom or another video conferencing program.
Eileen O’Brien, a retired Davenport Catholic schoolteacher whose son, Kevin, serves as a fellow with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) assigned to Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, noted that many families are eating out less during the pandemic. Families who have the means to do so could donate the money they are saving by eating out less frequently.
Alysson Riutta, Midwest Region volunteer manager for Catholic Relief Services (CRS), told Lunch and Learn participants that CRS offers an online portal for crowdfund-style collections. This can help parishes, schools and individuals to raise and donate money when in-person interactions are not possible. CRS tracks donations to attribute them to the correct diocese. For people unable to pick up Rice Bowls from their parish, the website includes a printout of the box with folding instructions.
Rice Bowl leaders interested in viewing the Lunch and Learn can do so at https://youtu.be/G4PYSRpl_Gg. The working document of ideas is available at https://tinyurl.com/RiceBowlIdeas. To add to it, contact Esmeralda Guerrero at firstname.lastname@example.org. “People can share what worked and what didn’t,” Kersten said.