HARTFORD – In your parish this Lent, you may be handed an empty bowl. Your job is to fill it.
Since 1975, CRS Rice Bowl (then called Operation Rice Bowl) has been a way of helping to relieve poverty overseas. Two years later, the program was adopted by Catholic Relief Services as its official Lenten program, changing lives overseas as well as locally.
Katie Blinstrubas, director of youth formation at St. Anthony Parish in Prospect, has been using CRS Rice Bowl for many years with students from kindergarten through grade six. She hands each child a cardboard rice bowl. The idea is to fill the rice bowl – available from CRS – with donations of money, contributed in some way by the children themselves.
“What we ask the kids to do is, when they go shopping, if their mom is buying a snack or something, to ask the mom not to buy the snack but to put the money in the rice bowl,” Mrs. Blinstrubas said. “Or, if they have an allowance, to put part of their allowance in, as much as they want to. If they buy snacks at school – you know, sometimes they can buy chips or ice cream – give that up once a week and put the money in the rice bowl.”
She stresses, to both children and parents, that the Lenten sacrifice is best coming from the children, not the parent.
“Say they give up ice cream for Lent. The cost of a gallon of ice cream each week can go into – I hope they don’t eat a gallon of ice cream a week – but the cost of the ice cream can go into the rice bowl,” she said.
If the parents wish to give up ice cream, as well – or whatever the child is giving up – it then can become a shared family sacrifice, she said.
Also included in the kit from CRS is a Lenten calendar that each week highlights a different country that the project benefits: Kenya, Guatemala, Philippines, Malawi, Haiti and the United States. A Lenten recipe from each country is also included.
The recipes are meatless and, to Mrs. Blinstrubas’s taste, not much to write home about; but then again, this is Lent. And they come in handy for the parish’s weekly “soup suppers” held each Friday in Lent before the Stations of the Cross. “They’re not exactly soup, but they’re meatless meals,” she said.
The curriculum CRS provides includes stories about the plight of poor people around the globe, and Mrs. Blinstrubas said the stories make a big impact on the children. “Their eyes go big when they hear a story about a little boy or little girl who doesn’t have what they have. They’re very surprised at what other people have to do,” she said.
Mark F. Cerrato, director of religious education at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in South Windsor, said his parish is just starting to offer the CRS Rice Bowl opportunity this year. The parish wanted to raise awareness of poverty and injustice on a global scale, he said. “We think we have it bad because things are tough economically, but our poor are not as poor as the rest of the world. We wanted to have that global approach,” Mr. Cerrato said.
One idea he wants to implement is to highlight the educational advantages we have in this country by putting a certain amount of money in the rice bowl for every year of education a person has achieved.
He also wants to stress the importance of recycling, which is another way to help others in ways we might not even know, he said.
“We’re the parish that’s [named after] the patron saint of ecology,” he said. “It’s the message Saint Francis of Assisi tried to live with his simple lifestyle, not just his identification with the poor but by leaving his wealth and living simply, like the poor would live at that time.”
CRS Rice Bowl doesn’t only help people overseas. Twenty-five percent of the money collected in the archdiocese goes to alleviate poverty right in our communities, including Catholic Charities agencies Centro San Jose in New Haven and the Office of Migration and Refugee Services in Hartford.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Waterbury is another recipient, and Deacon Paul Iadarola, executive director, said the money allocated to the organization goes right into the soup kitchen account.
“We do 400 meals a day, seven days a week,” he said. “We use [the money] to supplement the food purchase for the soup kitchen.
St. Vincent de Paul also has a homeless shelter, thrift store, supervised living for the mentally ill and affordable housing for the working poor.
“Without the Rice Bowl, the food wouldn’t be as – how should I say it – well, it wouldn’t be as tasty,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to buy more quality food than what we would be able to.”
The archdiocesan Office of Catholic Social Justice Ministry administers CRS Rice Bowl each year. Lynn Campbell, executive director, says it is about more than feeding the hungry.
“Rice Bowl is marketed as a Lenten faith-formation program for parishes, schools and families,” she wrote in an email. “It offers U.S. Catholics an opportunity to respond to Pope Francis’ invitation to live in solidarity with the poor. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are all Lenten pillars of our faith. Prayer helps unite us through Christ with the poor, and express our faith through solidarity.”
She added, “It is my hope that each family will have a Rice Bowl on the family dining table this Lent just like the Advent Wreath is during Advent.”
To learn how to get your parish involved, call OCSJM at 203-777-7279 or go to www.crsricebowl.org.