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Here's a different kind of Bowl

Feeding the hungry is the goal of the Souper Bowl of Caring, which has raised millions of dollars since it was established 11 years ago.

By ANGELA MILLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001


Thirteen years ago on Super Bowl Sunday, the Rev. Brad Smith said a prayer at his church.

It went like this:

"Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat."

Then, on Jan. 28, 1990, Smith and six youths from Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., decided to do something to help hungry people.

"The idea was a gift from God," Smith said this week when he was in Tampa for a news conference.

Smith suggested that the youths stand at sanctuary doors holding soup pots to encourage people as they leave the service to give $1. The result was that 22 churches in Columbia S.C. raised $5,700, which was donated to hunger-related charities in the community.

The following year, the event went statewide and then nationwide in 1993. The drive is now called the "Souper Bowl of Caring" and Smith is the executive director. He still works part time as the associate pastor at Spring Valley Church but spends most of his time working on the Souper Bowl.

"The Souper Bowl of Caring demonstrates the power of working together," Smith said. "We live in an age where there is so much division but sporting events, like the Super Bowl, can transcend that."

Last year more than 11,121 congregations representing 50 denominations from all 50 states raised more than $3.1-million. All proceeds go directly to the soup kitchen, food bank or organization of the local church's choice. Smith said the organizers of the Souper Bowl receive none of the money raised, and their only request is that the churches report their totals raised on Sunday to www.souperbowl.org or call (800) 358-7687.

More than 400 volunteers in South Carolina help organize the event. The Blue Cross Blue Shield office in Columbia donates its 60-line phone bank for volunteers, including 200 youths to receive calls from participating churches on Super Bowl Sunday, reporting their total dollars raised. The churches are entered on a database and the organization sends a newsletter to them as a followup after the event.

"I think it is beautiful to see how it grew from humble beginnings. It is amazing how a simple idea grew," said Dan Ott, Smith's right-hand man.

Smith said the goal for this year's Souper Bowl is to raise $4-million.

Locally, New River Church in Zephyrhills is holding a chili and corn bread dinner after the 10:30 a.m. service Sunday. Fred Perkins, the pastor, said they will ask for a donation for the dinner and all the proceeds will go to the Love House Recovery Mission in Zephyrhills. New River participated last year and plans to keep doing the yearly event.

Bradford United Church of Christ in Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel Church of the Nazarene were among the more than 30 congregations throughout the Tampa Bay area that took part.

The Souper Bowl organization held a news conference Wednesday at the Convention Center in Tampa, part of the Super Bowl week festivities. Rachel Baer, a 17-year-old student at Bloomingdale High in Valrico, was given an MVP award -- a large soup spoon mounted on a plaque with her name on it -- to show appreciation for her dedication in supporting the drive during the past six years.

Rachel is part of the youth group at First Presbyterian Church in Brandon. That church donates the money it raises to the Brandon Outreach Center and also collects canned goods to give to ECHO, an emergency care/help organization. Rachel has been involved with many community activities and mission trips.

"Each year it is overwhelming to see how willing people are to help the community," Rachel said.

- Angela Miller covers religion news in Pasco County. She can be reached in Dade City at (352) 521-5757, ext. 29 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6108, then 29. Her e-mail address is angela@sptimes.com.

For information

Call the Souper Bowl of Caring at (803) 788-3746 or (803) 788-3589, or go to the group's Web site: www.souperbowl.org.

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