By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
A year after the 2020 Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl collection was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, diocesan Catholics donated nearly $55,000 to combat hunger locally and around the globe.
“This year’s collection is almost back to pre-pandemic levels; it’s fantastic,” said Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action. “As some among us have had personal/family financial stability restored, we have remembered those in our community and (those) in other countries who continue to face new types of poverty. We have responded. Christ is with us.”
The closure of churches and the need for social distancing in the spring of 2020 meant parishes could not fully promote the annual Lenten collection. Each year, 75 percent of Rice Bowl funds go to CRS hunger efforts worldwide. The remaining 25 percent goes for grants to alleviate hunger in the Davenport Diocese.
“The grant review meeting last year was heartbreaking,” Ferris said. “There was so much need and so few funds available.” Last year, diocesan Catholics collected $33,079.33 overall — a huge accomplishment considering the circumstances — but less than half of the previous year’s collection. The diocese found funding to supplement Rice Bowl donations locally, but that was not the case with international efforts. This year, the diocese provided about $41,000 to CRS efforts worldwide.
The remaining $14,000 for the local share of Rice Bowl funds went to nine applicants this year. They are Community Action of Southeast Iowa in Burlington; Friendly House in Davenport; Henry County Help to Others in Mount Pleasant; Information Referral and Assistance Service in Clinton; North Liberty Community Pantry in North Liberty; Project Renewal in Davenport; St. Joseph Catholic Church in DeWitt; St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville; and Transitions, DMC in Burlington.
Each local organization must use the funding to support food programs. For example, Friendly House, a repeat recipient, uses its Rice Bowl grants to buy food for its holiday baskets to distribute to local families in need. Project Renewal uses its Rice Bowl grants each year to buy healthy snacks and meals for participants in the summer and after-school youth programs. Having their basic nutritional needs met helps youths to focus better, Project Renewal Director Ann Schwickerath told The Catholic Messenger last year.
Rachel Albrecht, planning director at Community Action of Southeast Iowa, said the organization will use its $600 Rice Bowl grant to purchase ethnic foods for the Louisa County food pantry in Columbus Junction. Last year, about a third of food pantry participants in Columbus Junction identified as Hispanic/Latino. “We are excited about the program and how this will benefit low-income residents of Louisa County,” Albrecht said.
The Social Justice Commission of St. Thomas More Parish-Coralville received $600 to provide food assistance to three local agencies that help immigrant children and their families: Catholic Worker House, Open Heartland and IowaCares. “The Rice Bowl grants help our commission do more to meet the needs of our community,” said commission member Mary Merchant.
Reminder to parishes:
One issue that arises every year is that Rice Bowl donations from parishes don’t always get to the diocese on time, Ferris said. “It is so important that parishes turn in the Rice Bowl money at least by the beginning of May because it allows the diocesan Finance Office time to tell us how much is available to be distributed in mid-June for local Rice Bowl grants.” His office adds late donations to the following year’s Rice Bowl total.
CCHD funds raised
Diocesan Catholics also donated money to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) collection earlier this year. Seventy-five percent of the funds go to the national organization, with the rest remains in the diocese. Three local organizations each received an $1,800 grant. Iowans for Immigrant Freedom in Iowa City will use the grant money for immigrant detention visitation. Nutrimos/IowaWINs and the First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant will collectively use their grant for a new microloan program. Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa will utilize its grant for general support. National CCHD funds often make their way back to the Davenport Diocese via national grants, diocesan Social Action Office representatives said.