March 13, 2015

Rice Bowl effort helps people in need in archdiocese and world

By Michaela Raffin

CRS Rice Bowl programThe oddly-shaped little cardboard bowl which shows up during Lent in school classrooms and parish offices is familiar to so many Catholics. However, Catholics may not be familiar with the impact of that unassuming bowl on someone in great need.

The bowl is part of the Rice Bowl program, a fundraiser held throughout Lent for Catholic Relief Services (CRS). As the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States, CRS works in 91 countries, reaching 100 million of the world’s poorest people regardless of race, religion or nationality.

The money raised during the Rice Bowl program goes toward aiding CRS initiatives worldwide. Of the proceeds collected, 25 percent will remain in the archdiocese to help the local poor and needy.

The Garden Door Ministry operated by St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis is one of the efforts in the archdiocese that will benefit from the Rice Bowl program.

The Garden Door ministry is open five days a week and serves meals—usually a sandwich and a bottle of water—to neighbors or anyone who comes to the door of the parish. St. John parishioners volunteer in two-hour shifts to work the door, greet homeless neighbors and offer assistance. This outreach sometimes includes offering toiletries, seasonal clothing and bus passes for those seeking transportation to and from a new job.

“St. John’s being located right in the heart of downtown has to be a beacon of truth, hope and love to the community,” said Joshua Schaffner, director of catechesis and discipleship at St. John. “First and foremost, we must reach those in need—our homeless neighbors. If we don’t reach out to them, we miss the call of Christ to love our neighbors.”

The parish plans to use the Rice Bowl funds to enhance those efforts and create other ways of bringing Christ to the community.

“We hope to do some kind of community event in the spring or summer for our neighbors, similar to our fall neighborhood cookout where we just grill in our parking lot and have a big party where everyone is welcome,” said Schaffner. “We hope to do that in the spring during Easter where we can evangelize as well.”

Many other parishes have similar outreach efforts to help people in need. Judy Hogon is coordinator for the St. Benedict Parish Soup Kitchen in Terre Haute.

“One family—there were about 10 of them with their children—all lived in one house and their stove went out,” Hogon said. “They would come to the soup kitchen, and we would feed them, and then we would pass out containers of soup and leftover sandwiches to the family for the weekend.”

Besides helping the parish to serve the hungry, the money received from the Rice Bowl program will help the soup kitchen to buy new pots and pans “so we don’t have scorched soup!” said Hogon.

The Rice Bowl program encapsulates the sacrificial attitude that Catholics strive to attain during Lent. By sacrificing small amounts each day and putting that money in the cardboard Rice Bowls, Catholics can participate in almsgiving throughout the Lenten season.

“I think the statement that is on the top of a Rice Bowl box sums it up beautifully; ‘What you give up for Lent changes lives,’ ” said Theresa Chamblee, director of Catholic Relief Services for the archdiocese.

Although the connection between the Rice Bowl and almsgiving is clear, the program also does much more for Catholics wanting to grow spiritually during Lent.

“What many people may not realize is that the CRS Rice Bowl is not just about almsgiving, but there is an entire program built around prayer, fasting, learning and giving,” Chamblee said. “There are activities for young adults and families, with the goal to bring people closer to Christ and fulfill his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves—neighbors both locally and globally.”

This year, CRS has launched a new video initiative called “What is Lent?” The video series is available at There is also a CRS Rice Bowl app for smartphones that offers daily reflections, stories of hope and even meatless recipes for Fridays. The app can be downloaded for free at

Participating in the Rice Bowl program is about much more than simply giving: It teaches Catholics about the importance of charity, love and spiritual growth during the Lenten season.

“The CRS Rice Bowl helps me remember that there is a world greater than the one I perceive that I live in,” Chamblee said. “It provides me with a tangible way to live out our Lord’s two greatest commandments which are to love God with all my heart, soul and mind, and to love my neighbor as myself.”

(To participate, check with your parish or visit the CRS Rice Bowl website at, or call Theresa Chamblee, archdiocesan Rice Bowl coordinator, at 317-236-1404 or 800-282-9836, ext. 1404)

Local site Links: