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Super Sunday or Souper Sunday?

The grassroots hunger initiative capitalizes on football fandom. A West Virginia church was an early adopter

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Bridgeport Presbyterian Church, a small rural congregation in north central West Virginia, has participated in the Souper Bowl of Caring for as long as anyone can remember. (Photo courtesy of Bridgeport Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — The National Football League’s Super Bowl has been this country’s quintessential sporting event for more than 50 years, garnering worldwide attention.

Thanks to a young Presbyterian seminary student’s simple prayer, the Souper Bowl of Caring has benefited from Super Bowl mania to help tackle hunger issues at the local level for 30 of those years, and despite the special challenges presented this year will forge ahead as usual.

“Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.”

That prayer was the genesis of an idea to capture the enthusiasm shared by football fans during Super Bowl weekend and help local charities feed the hungry. Primarily a youth-inspired movement, more than $160 million in food and monetary donations have been raised since 1990, when Dr. Brad Smith, now senior pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and founder and chair emeritus for Souper Bowl of Caring, first delivered the entreaty to the Almighty.

Bridgeport Presbyterian Church, a small rural congregation of approximately 100 members in north central West Virginia, has been participating in the Souper Bowl of Caring for as long as church members can recall.

“We’ve been collecting every year since I’ve been here, and the mission committee said we had participated before I arrived 11 years ago,” said Bridgeport’s pastor, the Rev. Robin Ray. “Nobody knows exactly when it started.”

Of course, this year presents special challenges for churches and other civic groups who can’t hold in-person functions or events due to COVID-19. Bridgeport Presbyterian Church, about 40 minutes southwest of Morgantown, is no exception.

“In a typical year we would have just collected on Super Bowl Sunday, and people bring in soup or any canned goods, as well as monetary donations,” Ray said. “This year we started collecting this past Sunday so that would give people the opportunity to drop off during the week. We’re open 8:00-4:00 every day for collections. We promoted it via our Facebook page, and it’s been featured in our weekly newsletter for a couple weeks.”

People have been dropping off soup and other good things to eat at Bridgeport Presbyterian Church all week long. (Photo courtesy of Bridgeport Presbyterian Church)

Consequently, people have already been dropping off soup before Sunday’s big game. The proceeds from Bridgeport Presbyterian Church will go to a food pantry in town called Shepherd’s Corner, which was created by a group of pastors more than 25 years ago.

“In the past, people would go from church to church looking for food. They created a food pantry so that people will have a central place to get food if they need it,” said Ray. “Anything we collect, either monetary or goods, we’ll give to Shepherd’s Corner.”

Five years ago, the Presbytery of West Virginia also began a day of mission on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, where youth could go to five separate locations throughout the state and engage in project work ahead of time. Unfortunately, that isn’t happening this year — but that doesn’t mean all the church’s mission projects are on hold.

“This year we’re having a soup fundraiser that’s not going toward hunger,” said Ray. “Since September we’ve had the children come here on the days they are not in school to what we call our Educational Enrichment Program. We do their homework with them and just provide a safe place for them to be. Because our budget is tight, some of our paid workers and volunteers are selling soup to raise money for this program.”

For Ray, mission ministry is part and parcel what she wants her small congregation to mean to the community, despite the recent challenges presented by the pandemic.

“When I came here from New Jersey, I wanted a church that didn’t just write checks,” Ray said. “We’re very active in the community and hands-on with several projects. My guess is that Souper Bowl donations this year will be down, but the church always surprises me.”

For more information, or to donate to the Souper Bowl of Caring, visit tacklehunger.org.


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