Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Members from several local congregations will be united against hunger Sunday as they take part in an annual Souper Bowl of Caring event founded nearly a quarter-century ago.
According to the organization's website, the movement began in 1990, when a seminarian interning at the Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, inspired youths with his prayer to “be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat” on Super Bowl Sunday.
Held in conjunction with the granddaddy of all football games – the Super Bowl – the effort to curb hunger became a rallying point for collecting food and funds to benefit local organizations. From its first year collection of $5,700 among 22 Colum-bia churches to help area non-profits, Souper Bowl for Caring has grown this year to some 584 participating groups collecting a little more than $2 million in cash and food items nationwide as of Feb. 1, according to souperbowl.org.
The event continues through Feb. 3, Super Bowl Sunday.
Locally, church officials say they are collecting for H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Enrich-ment), a non-profit organization that has served since 1991 as a clearing house for local churches and agencies.
First United Methodist Church secretary Ann Culotta said collection baskets are being set outside the church sanctuary so that after Sunday services, people can drop monetary donations inside, which then will be turned over to H.O.P.E.
“We have been doing this for 10 years,” she said, adding that a staff member heard about the program “and knew that any money collected would be used locally and we thought it was a good idea.”
Annually, the Method-ist congregation raises several hundred dollars for H.O.P.E.
“I think people feel it's an easy way to contribute to the program, and the Super Bowl is a very good way” to raise awareness of the number of people in Cherokee County who go hungry, Culotta said.
At Trinity Episcopal Church, Father Rob Godwin said his parishioners whole-heartedly support the effort, and have done so even longer than the eight years he has been assigned to lead the parish.
“The folks are pretty generous,” he said.
To encourage others to participate, the priest reminds them “we have it easy – we're warm, we're well-fed … some people have no heat or food in their house at all, and we need to be generous to those less fortunate.”
H.O.P.E. helps through a number of different food programs, like a soup kitchen operated during the week and a back-pack food program for kids, among others.
“We're so blessed to have an organization like that in our city, that we want to do every thing we can to support it,” he added.
At Central Baptist Church, community ministries leader Jackie Hinch said the congregation has participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring project for a number of years.
“I can't tell you exactly how many, but we were made aware of it through the Jacksonville ministerial alliance,” she said.
Church members collect food and money for H.O.P.E., “and the community is always is so very giving,” Hinch said.
“Where children are concerned … I can't tell you how well they respond, but I know it's off the charts. We fell blessed, and I'm always astounded at how giving they are, how willing they are to out in any way possible to feed hungry in our community.”
As in past years, collection buckets for food and soup pots for monetary donations will remain up through the month of February at the Baptist church to allow people to contribute more conveniently.