Young people from Columbia's First Northeast Baptist Church, homecongregation of Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, will join thousands ofothers Sunday in a grass-roots drive dubbed the ``Souper Bowl ofCaring.''
Youth will stand at sanctuary exits at churches across the country,holding soup pots in which they will collect donations for the needy.The project has mushroomed since an associate minister at Spring ValleyPresbyterian Church, also in Columbia, started it in 1990.
That year, 22 Columbia churches collected $5,700. Last year, similardrives by youth at churches of 50 denominations in 50 states, Canada andPuerto Rico raised $3.1 million.
This year's event was kicked off at aWednesday news conference in Tampa, Fla., where the Super Bowlwill be played. The game's religious counterpart is expected to involve 15,000congregations this time around and raise $4 million for the needy.
All proceeds go directly to local soup kitchens, food banks or otherrecipients selected by the participants. Souper Bowl organizers nevertell participants where to send the money raised.
The formula is simple, the result dramatic. Sunday worshipers areencouraged to chip in $1 as they leave services.
Smith's venture into national fund raising started simply enough.Leading prayer at Spring Valley in 1990, he called attention to people``without even a bowl of soup to eat.'' In an era of super-sizedprofessional football salaries and super-costly advertising, his idea issuper-simple -- appealing especially to mission-minded youngsters.
After last year's Souper Bowl, Leah Freeman of Amsterdam, N.Y.,wrote a letter to project organizers, saying she liked helping the lessfortunate. ``I'm taking the money tonight to a local food bank near myhouse,'' she said. ``I'm so glad I could contribute to this recipe ofkindness.''
The way Smith figures it, if just 10 percent of the more than 130million viewers tuning in to the Super Bowl gave $1 to a local charity,$13 million would be raised to help the hungry.
The concept makes sense to Dan Ott, on the staff of the Souper Bowl,based at Spring Valley Presbyterian.
``It's such a beautiful idea in its simplicity,'' Ott said. ``It'sjust young people standing outside worship centers, collecting money fortheir own communities. The other thing is the grass-roots aspect. Peoplegive money and then see it at work.''
Too often, Ott said, today's generation of young people is wronglyportrayed as apathetic and self-centered.
``It's great to see that is just not true,'' he said, ``I've beeninvolved in other hunger organizations. It is great to get involved in ahands-on way with this one.''