By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
LONG GROVE — Cardboard CRS Rice Bowl banks are a common sight during Lent for Jean Adams, a member of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt. “It’s just something we do every Lent,” she explained. She was less familiar with the magnitude and possibilities of the program.
On Jan. 31, Adams and representatives from seven other parishes had a chance to learn more about CRS Rice Bowl at a kick-off breakfast at St. Ann Parish in Long Grove. Participants received materials from Catholic Relief Services, which administers the Rice Bowl program, and discussed ideas for increasing donations.
Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action, facilitated the event, one of three Rice Bowl kick-offs in the diocese this year. “The local kick-offs are good to get local ideas beyond what is in the CRS materials,” Ferris said. They are also an opportunity to explain how Rice Bowl “relates to living our faith.”
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.
In an effort to set the tone for the event, members of St. Ann Parish served African peanut stew. The recipe for the Nigerien stew was included in CRS materials this year, as Niger is one of the countries that benefits from Rice Bowl donations annually. St. Ann Social Action Committee member Ann Mohr said making the ethnic dish was a way to help diners relate to those being helped through Rice Bowl. “It helps us develop an understanding of who they are.” Fried rice was also served to match the “rice” theme; leftover stew and rice was donated to Café on Vine in Davenport.
As participants dined, they shared fundraising ideas. Some, like Adams, were learning about Rice Bowl on a deeper level for the first time. Others, including St. Ann’s parishioner Linda Olson, had years of experience promoting the Lenten project. Olson suggested that other parishes create an attention-grabbing display. “Use the area you have available in your church. Have a map with countries highlighted. Make a kiosk. Do something visual so people will see it.”
Teresa Anderson, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, said children at her parish have the opportunity to dump out their Rice Bowl boxes into a metal bowl during Mass. She said the children love the clinking sound the coins make as they fall into the bowl. That idea proved popular with representatives from the other parishes. Olson said, “The ‘clink-clink-clink’ in the brass bowl really got me.”
In a presentation to the group, Ferris explained that CRS is a well-respected organization that assists about 100 million people annually through its network of 160 agencies. Instead of simply providing charity, CRS works to help people become more self-sufficient.
He was quick to note that Rice Bowl has had an effect on local communities, too. He explained that one food bank within diocesan borders generated greater awareness from its community after receiving a Rice Bowl grant. The food bank is now self-sustaining and no longer requests Rice Bowl grants.
He also offered suggestions for helping families express Catholic values through the project: pray, learn about the issue of poverty, make sacrifices and give. “At the end we can be receptive to the needs around the world.”
Parish representatives in attendance received grey t-shirts with green lettering as another way to build awareness for Rice Bowl. Dominican Republic-based Alta Gracias Apparel — a company that has been endorsed by CRS for paying its workers living wages — produced the shirts.
Adams left the kick-off breakfast excited to take what she had learned and use it to help St. Joe’s increase Rice Bowl donations this year. “We’re making plans,” she exclaimed.