Souper Bowl of Caring features food, fun, football again

Youth of Covenant UMC Springfield

Photo: Youth of Covenant UMC Springfield

Judging from church newsletters we receive and the dozen churches that kindly responded to our appeal for information, the annual Souper Bowl of Caring ministry that happens in churches nationwide on the National Football League's Super Bowl Sunday is still a very big deal in the Eastern Pa. Conference.

The biggest, single-day sports event of the year is a popular occasion for many churches that try to shift some of their focus from football to food–or the lack of it among hungry neighbors in their communities and beyond. While millions will view the Super Bowl championship Sunday night, millions more will go to bed hungry. 

One in six Americans face hunger daily, statistics show, and 16 million children live in food- insecure households. Nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty and more than 630,000 are homeless.

Started by a youth group in 1990, Souper Bowl of Caring (SBOC) has since grown all over the world, as churches have collected more than $100 million to donate back into their own community.

On Super Bowl Sunday and in the weeks leading up to it, young people take up collections, many using symbolic soup pots, asking for one dollar or one item of food for people in need. They give 100 percent of the donations directly to the local hunger-relief charity of their choice.

Of course, many donors give many dollars and much more unperishable food. Often men's and women's ministry groups assist the youth. Some have become rather creative with their collection efforts.

Some EPA Conference churches have been doing Souper Bowl of Caring for a dozen years or longer. St. Paul’s UMC in Warrington spends two weeks collecting food, as members place their donations this year on either the "Seattle Seahawks" or "New England Patriots" table. They announced a half-time score of votes–one vote per food item– on the first Sunday, Jan. 25, and encouraged everyone to push harder for the final score on Feb, 1. All items collected will be donated to the Bucks County Food Larder, which will decide the winner. "Everyone in our community benefits from our generosity," reported Christian Education Director Diana Wrisley.

In 2014, its 15th year of participation,  Covenant UMC in Springfield was the fifth largest contributor to SBOC in the state, according to youth ministry director Don Cadge.  Members donated 2,076 cans of food and $1,892 in funds.

The church helped collect an additional 10 times as much food, 20,545 cans, in 2014 when it also joined in an ecumenical, community-wide SBOC food drive in Springfield and surrounding communities. Covenant has been a part of that effort for a decade, sharing collections with three food banks of the Delaware County Interfaith Food Assistance Network (DIFAN). It was the largest SBOC food drive in Pennsylvania in 2014. 

Ephrata First UMC collects food in baskets, bags decorated by children and shopping carts provided by local stores for Souper Bowl of Caring, one of their many special food collection efforts.

LUMINA, the outreach ministry partnership of Lancaster area churches, asked churches to take their donated cans to a local food bank and send moneys to LUMINA to support its SuperCupboard, a six-week program to liberate families from poverty. Co-sponsored with local UM churches and agencies and Penn State University’s Extension Service, the SuperCupboard helps low-income families learn effective parenting, budgeting, nutrition, and other basic life skills.

Two distant churches, Wharton-Wesley UMC in Philadelphia and Covenant UMC in Lancaster, both decided to add fun and fellowship to food and football by hosting Souper Bowl Family Night. Members, guests and "whosoever will" can come–with donations in hand, of course–to enjoy viewing the big game on big-screen televisions together. The gatherings will include savory soup, snacks and side dishes and plenty of games, contests and conversation for non-football fans or if the game gets boring, as Super Bowl games often do.

Other churches that responded to our Souper Bowl Shout-Out by letting us know what they had planned were Calvary UMC in Ambler, Annville UMC, Bethel Hill in Lansdale, and Union UMC in Havertown.

Thanks to you all! Learn more information about the Souper Bowl of Caring. Maybe your church will want to participate in 2016.

By John Coleman, EPA Conference Communications Director
Photo: Senior High Sunday School Class of Covenant UMC Springfield with Don Cadge (right)