Sunday, Feb. 5, was a special time for our nation: the Super Bowl, one of America’s great traditions. Americans from all walks of life got together with friends and family, and for a few short hours all eyes were fixed on the same football field.
But while most thoughts were on football, many also took time to remember the plight of those less fortunate.
This year marked the 22nd anniversary of the Souper Bowl of Caring, an annual fundraiser to provide food and financial assistance to those who need it. The Souper Bowl was born in 1990 in Columbia, S.C., when young people from Spring Valley Presbyterian Church began exploring ways to address hunger in their community. The idea was to tap into enthusiasm for the “big game” and make Super Bowl weekend a time of giving. After deciding to hold a fundraiser, the teens liked the idea so much they invited youth groups from other churches to join in their Souper Bowl effort, and a total of 22 churches raised $5,700 that first year.
They probably couldn’t have imagined how successful their efforts would be. The following year, the Souper Bowl expanded to churches across the state, and by 1993 youth groups from 36 states were participating. In 1997, Souper Bowl volunteers from across the country topped the $1 million collection threshold for the first time.
In the weeks and days leading up to the Super Bowl, and particularly on Super Bowl Sunday, churches and other groups take collections and hold fundraisers. The local groups raising the money get to decide which charities they choose to support, and 100 percent of the collections go directly to their charity of choice.
“The Souper Bowl uses the energy of the big game to unite the nation in a very important cause – fighting hunger,” said Souper Bowl President and CEO Tracy Bender.
Since its inception, the charity campaign has raised more than $81 million in cash and food donations and touched countless lives, the organization reports.
So far this year, 1,198 different groups of young volunteers have reported collecting a total of $3.7 million in cash and food donations for local charities. Participating groups are asked to send reports on how much they’ve collected, which are then posted on Souper Bowl’s website, souperbowl.org. (For example, shortly after the game ended, the website showed that volunteers from Faith United Methodist Church in Lexington reported collecting $287 in cash and 267 food items. The donations were to be sent to Lexington Interfaith Community Services, a nearby charity.)
Even in the best of times, it’s important that those with enough to meet their own needs will share with those who lack food, warmth or housing.
But these aren’t the best of times; unemployment remains too high and our economic doldrums linger. And the high number of people who are unemployed and lacking paychecks means our nation’s already limited charity resources are getting spread even thinner.
During this time of economic difficulty for so many, those young volunteers from two decades ago should be particularly proud of their efforts.
And a special “thank you” to all who looked beyond their own needs this 2012 Super Bowl weekend and pitched in for those less fortunate.
Richard Eckstrom, a CPA, is the state’s Comptroller.