COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 26 (RNS) -- When the Baltimore Ravens face the New York Giants in Sunday's Super Bowl, kids from one Raven's home church will be starring in a different sort of extravaganza.

Young people from Columbia's First Northeast Baptist Church, home congregation of Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware, will join thousands of others Sunday in a grass-roots drive dubbed the ``Souper Bowl of Caring.''

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 Valley Presbyterian Church, also in Columbia, started it in 1990.

That year, 22 Columbia churches collected $5,700. Last year, similar drives by youth at churches of 50 denominations in 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico raised $3.1 million.

This year's event was kicked off at a Wednesday news conference in Tampa, Fla., where the Super Bowl will be played. The game's religious counterpart is expected to involve 15,000 congregations this time around and raise $4 million for the needy.

All proceeds go directly to local soup kitchens, food banks or other recipients selected by the participants. Souper Bowl organizers never tell participants where to send the money raised.

The formula is simple, the result dramatic. Sunday worshipers are encouraged to chip in $1 as they leave services.

``The Souper Bowl of Caring demonstrates the power of working together,'' said the Rev. Brad Smith, Souper Bowl's executive director and an associate pastor of Spring Valley Presbyterian. ``Our nationwide effort is a subtle reminder -- a mustard seed -- that ordinary people, with God's help, can do extraordinary good if we work together.''

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-sized professional football salaries and super-costly advertising, his idea is super-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 less fortunate. ``I'm taking the money tonight to a local food bank near my house,'' she said. ``I'm so glad I could contribute to this recipe of kindness.''

The way Smith figures it, if just 10 percent of the more than 130 million 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's just young people standing outside worship centers, collecting money for their own communities. The other thing is the grass-roots aspect. People give money and then see it at work.''

Too often, Ott said, today's generation of young people is wrongly portrayed as apathetic and self-centered.

``It's great to see that is just not true,'' he said, ``I've been involved in other hunger organizations. It is great to get involved in a hands-on way with this one.''

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