By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Helping ease food insecurity locally and abroad can be as simple as putting loose change into a cardboard bank.
“Anyone can do this,” diocesan Social Action volunteer Loxi Hopkins said during a virtual Lunch and Learn session Feb. 2, which highlighted the upcoming Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl collection. “I think it’s great for kids in particular because it gives them an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in other countries and in their own neighborhoods.”
CRS is dedicated to reducing suffering and providing assistance to people in need in more than 100 countries, regardless of race, religion or nationality, said Deacon Joe Welter, whose diocesan assignment includes supporting local CRS efforts. Catholics can aid this effort during Lent by donating to the annual CRS Rice Bowl collection. Each year, 75% percent of the Lenten collection supports international hunger relief efforts. The remaining 25% benefits local organizations that ease food insecurity.
To support hunger relief efforts locally and worldwide, donors fill cardboard “Rice Bowl” banks with cash and change or make a donation online at https://www.crsricebowl.org/. Online donors indicate where they want the local portion to go by inputting their zip code or parish name.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula, who did not speak at the Lunch and Learn, told The Catholic Messenger the collection is a way to practice the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. “CRS Rice Bowl — Catholic Relief Services’ Lenten faith-in-action program — invites us to practice these pillars by reflecting on the needs of our sisters and brothers and responding in love to support them.”
“There really isn’t anything CRS doesn’t do” to help communities overcome hunger and malnutrition, poverty and the impacts of climate change, Deacon Welter said during the Lunch and Learn.
Worldwide efforts include clean water projects, establishing microloan programs so community members can pool their savings and make loans to each other, and helping farmers learn sustainable farming techniques. Recently, CRS has been working to help women become more self-sufficient, especially in countries where they have traditionally had few opportunities.
The Rice Bowl website, www.crsricebowl.org, contains resources for families, parishes and schools who need ideas for maximizing Rice Bowl collections. The website features stories of hope, reflections, prayer opportunities and meatless recipes. Deacon Welter is available to speak at Rice Bowl events as his schedule allows. Spanish-speakers can go to www.crsplatodearroz.org for resources.
Lunch and Learn participants said pre-established Lenten meals, including fish fries and soup suppers, can be a great opportunity to share Rice Bowl information and collect donations. Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City plans to host Rice Bowl lunches to raise money and awareness. St. Ambrose University in Davenport hopes to hand out Rice Bowls at two upcoming campus events.
Deacon Welter said clergy can help the cause by talking about the Rice Bowl collection at Mass. “There are so many (Lenten) readings that fit well with the themes. People engage with what is being preached — that’s one thing we hear over and over again about liturgy.”
The Catholic Bishops of the United States founded CRS 80 years ago. Deacon Welter said CRS minimizes its overhead costs so that 93% of donations can go directly to programs that help vulnerable individuals and families. “That’s about as high as you can get.”
Deacon Welter closed the Lunch and Learn with prayer. “Bless the compassionate donors who support the work of Catholic Relief Services, helping accomplish the mission to save lives, restore human dignity and protect the sanctity of human life.”
Join diocesan CRS Chapter
The Diocese of Davenport’s CRS chapter is an opportunity for Catholics to engage in the organization’s mission year-round. Virtual meetings take place at noon the second Saturday of the month and at 7 p.m. the last Tuesday of the month.
David Drake, a member of St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, said CRS chapter participation has helped him gain a new perspective on the challenges of life. “It’s easy for us to get so caught up in our own lives… and when you see what CRS does, you start thinking, ‘I don’t have to worry about a famine. I’ve got clean drinking water in my home. I’m not fleeing my home and leaving everything there because it isn’t safe anymore.’” CRS chapter participants can be “major players” in helping people who are dealing with the effects of poverty, war and climate change worldwide. “That’s why I became engaged and I hope more people will join.”
Contact Joe Welter for more information about joining the diocesan CRS chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org.