In contrast to all the billions of dollars that surround the National Football League Super Bowl, the mega-event of all sports championships, one of the stories most poignant and reflective of the grim truth we live in today is that of the “Souper Bowl.”
Right in Harrisburg, a group of seven United Methodist Churches is working together to collect funds to put food on the table for those who are homeless, hungry or otherwise economically challenged. On the day of the game, these churches hold collections for a local “Souper Bowl” of sorts, in which money is raised for Harrisburg’s Uptown Soup Kitchen.
One of the leaders of this effort, Barbara Schmiedel of the tiny United Methodist Church, which boasts only some 150 congregants, is doing its share again to help the homeless in celebrating its seventh “Souper Bowl,” in which collections are taken twice on the day of the big game to donate directly to the Uptown Soup Kitchen, located at the Camp Curtain Memorial-Mitchell United Methodist Church on Sixth Street.
Excitement over the event, which is promoted extensively in church bulletins, leads many parishioners to show up for services dressed in football jerseys, including two youngsters who handle the collections dressed respectively in the uniforms of the two competing teams. “The last time the Eagles were in the Super Bowl was probably the most well attended Super Bowl day service we ever had even though they lost,” according to Schmiedel.
Still, attendees of the two Sunday Super Bowl day services “have a ball,” she says. “We look forward to it every year, and it’s a great feeling to know that all of the fun results in money raised for a good cause.”
Picture a church audience, divided between a good number of cheese heads wearing the Green Bay Packers’ yellow and green as well as many of the iron city faithful who come decked out in black and gold to represent the Steelers Nation. The “G” in the Packers logo, which stands for greatness, in this case could stand for the importance of “giving,” which is what this annual program is all about.
All this to raise anywhere from $35 in the first year to more than $400 last year in the case of the Uptown United Methodist Church. Still, it’s money and effort, including donations of water, bread, juices and silverware that makes all the difference in the world for those suffering from hunger and economic dislocation.
Nancy Shaffer, who directs the volunteers serving meals at the 6th Street soup kitchen tells Rock The Capital the real value of the effort is not so much in the amount of money raised but in the emotional support and bonding that occur in providing meals for the downtrodden.
“That’s where it counts,” Shaffer states. “Getting more and more people enthused is what it’s all about. The people who come in are so grateful, and appreciative, and everyone involved treats them with respect and dignity, so both those who receive the meals as well as the volunteers themselves feel rewarded.”
There’s an organization on the Internet that runs a similar themed though completely different project called “Souper Bowl of Caring” that touts having raised $2.2 million in 2011 from 456 volunteer organizations, and $10 million each of the previous three years, with literally every penny going to help provide meals for the hungry.
If it’s really true that Americans spend $10 billion placing all types of bets each year on the Super Bowl, the work of churches and other organizations that work all over the country to put together “Souper Bowls” pales in comparison.
Maybe that’s the larger point here. We as a country always seem to have the resources and funds when push comes to shove, but we don’t do enough.
Nationwide, nearly 1 in 6 Americans, including 1 in 4 children, meet the definition of “food insecure.” This is a term used to describe those who lack access to adequate amounts of nutrition based on not having enough financial resources. This means some 50 million Americans fit into the category of those more likely to be candidates faced with the prospects of a “the Souper Bowl” of challenge each day about where their next meal will come from than the one day Super Bowl that generates so much hype.
As much as the Methodist churches in Harrisburg and charities throughout the country do to help the hungry and the homeless, it’s obvious we can do more. Imagine if just 1 percent of the $10 billion bet each year on the Super Bowl went to feed America’s hungry. That would be another $100 million, or ten times what the Super Bowl of Caring manages to generate.
The excitement over the NFL’s big game is irresistible, but the struggle that too many confront throughout the country and whom are targeted for help by these charitable “Souper Bowls” is a far more relevant and compelling story with which we should all become involved.
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