Lent began a little later by the calendar date, but the penitential season still provides opportunities to make sacrifices. The nostalgia of the small, foldable paper boxes that rest on classroom windowsills is not lost among adults who once attended Catholic middle and high schools. These are the Rice Bowls, a fundraising initiative of Catholic Relief Services, and for current school children and teens, the image is so fresh, they can touch it. Schools and parishes in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend are no stranger to this charitable approach; CRS Rice Bowls are basically a Lenten tradition.
CRS accomplishes what its name suggests – alleviating the struggles that individuals in need around the world face by offering a variety of social, monetary and spiritual aid. Though small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, the Rice Bowl makes a huge impact. CRS states that through these Rice Bowl donations, more than 140 million individuals in more than 100 countries receive assistance. Poverty and hunger relief services allocated to U.S. dioceses come from a quarter of the contributions alone, while the rest aids a wide range of other countries.
People at Bishop Dwenger High School in Fort Wayne understand the importance of the Rice Bowl. In fact, more than $7,000 from the school’s Rice Bowl contributions has been accumulated in just five years, said Bishop Dwenger theology teacher, Nick Miles.
A student CRS chapter began this year at the high school. The reasoning behind the chapter’s formation, Miles explained, is to make students aware of unjust circumstances that struggling individuals may face, to educate students on what real change in the world looks like and to encourage students to make the appropriate changes to ensure a better future.
Taking this to heart, CRS students set up a “rice fast” on both Ash Wednesday and the Wednesday after that.
“The idea was that students could show solidarity with those around the world who were suffering from hunger by eating the same allotment of food that many of the poor of the world may eat in a given day,” said Miles. Receiving just one bowl of rice in return, students willingly traded their lunches by giving a $1 donation.
These acts of fasting and almsgiving were specifically offered up for Ukraine this year, with a total of $232 raised for the country. “That amounts to 232 bowls of rice or just charitable donations,” Miles added. Students could also personally acknowledge Ukraine by wearing one of the blue and yellow ribbons produced by the school’s CRS chapter and Saints for All clubs.
St. Charles Borromeo Parish and School in Fort Wayne also participates in CRS initiatives. Assistant principal Sister Genevieve Raupp, OSF, said the parish has created a CRS chapter of its own just this year. Their goal is to have members personally hand out Rice Bowls to parishioners, rather than merely setting them on a table for people to pick up. Sister Genevieve emphasized that the personal contact makes a world of difference, and even the youngest answer the call to help the less fortunate.
Each Friday, students were given envelopes to collect donations for different agencies in need. Working with CRS, the school also raised funds for Haiti this past fall semester; CRS was present in the country to assist those suffering from last summer’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake. Now the school is collecting donations for Ukrainian refugees, said Sister Genevieve.
St. Charles will continue to list different initiatives in the bulletin during the Lenten season that offer support to those in need. Currently, St. Charles is awaiting the arrival of their ordered Rice Bowls. When received, the junior high students will be the first to participate in this program, setting the example for the younger children.
A third Fort Wayne school also stands for service and almsgiving. Nicole Rudolph, Pastoral Minister at Bishop Luers High School, explained that they, too, utilize Rice Bowls during Lent. They also have a CRS chapter, which functions in tangent with the high school’s Sodalities Service. For Bishop Luers, the whole student body participates in the chapter because it is installed via these Sodalities instead of just a single CRS club. Sodalities, Rudolph explained, are “established service groups.”
In their homerooms, Sodalities gather on a weekly basis to brainstorm and complete in-house service projects. In addition to spending two hours completing a larger service project on school grounds during the fall semester, students also partake in a Day Service Project during the spring semester in which they serve those outside their immediate school community.
Bishop Luers is demonstrating its support for Ukraine too. Rice Bowl donations, as well as Mass and daily intentions, are offered up for the struggling country.
In response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a CRS news release stated that the organization “is deploying staff and resources to support the Church as it responds to the unfolding humanitarian crisis across a handful of affected countries.”
CRS is offering assistance to the people of Ukraine through services such as providing food and shelter, transportation and evacuation facilities to the displaced. CRS is also offering aid to the nearby countries of Moldova, Romania and Poland.
Speaking to the Catholic News Service earlier this month, CRS president and CEO, Sean Callahan, reflected on the millions fleeing Ukraine. “The scale of the suffering,” he stated, is “alarming to see.” To Callahan, individuals who donate to CRS as well as countries that welcome refugees are encouraging.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement regarding a national CRS collection that will take place on March 26 and 27 this year.
Dropping a handful of coins into a small square box this Lent can help a migrant family thousands of miles away…or a poor soul down the street.
For CRS resources, such as free Rice Bowls, visit crsricebowl.org. To support Ukraine, visit crs.org. For information about joining diocesan CRS chapters, contact Shawn Storer, Catholic Social Ministry Coordinator for the diocese, at 574-339-1100.
This will provide humanitarian aid to the needy and malnourished, those fleeing the effects of war and the millions who live under economic strain.
CRS not only provides easy ways to support those in need, but it also demonstrates how helping one’s neighbor is a fundamental Catholic – and human – value.
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