The Diocese of Trenton is looking for volunteers to serve as parish liaisons for the annual Operation Rice Bowl program, designed by Catholic Relief Services to aid poor and hungry both worldwide and close to home.

“Some people’s impression is that Catholic Relief Services is just disaster relief,” noted Father Michael Kennedy, CRS diocesan director and parochial vicar in St. Katharine Drexel Parish, Burlington. Calling his education into the agency “an eye-opener,” he continued, “They do a lot more, such as supply microfinancing and small loans to people in poor nations and aid victims of human trafficking.”

Catholic Relief Services is the official relief and development agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Its Rice Bowl program is conducted each Lent in every U.S. diocese to further the Lenten traditions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

A simple cardboard rice bowl placed in the home of each family serves as a tool for collecting funds. The CRSRiceBowl.org website offers a Lenten calendar, which guides families through the 40 days of Lent with activities, reflections and stories of hope from around the world.  The website also offers background and resources such as posters, photos and videos to educate and engage faithful about the program.

Alms donated through Operation Rice Bowl support the work of CRS in about 45 different countries each year. Twenty-five percent of the donations stay in the local diocese to support anti-hunger and poverty relief programs. Since its inception in 1975, the Rice Bowl has raised nearly $300 million.

This year, the Diocese of Trenton will enlist the help of volunteers to educate, inspire and take responsibility for the program, explained Brenda Rascher, diocesan executive director of Catholic Social Services.

“We are trying to get a representative from as many parishes as possible to take responsibility to promote the Rice Bowl program in their parish,” she said.

Not only will this increase donations to poor worldwide, she stressed, the benefits may be reaped closer to home: the 25 percent returned to the diocese by CRS may be used to support food pantries, soup kitchens, St. Vincent de Paul Society or other social service agencies located within the Diocese. Volunteers who work with Father Kennedy to help spread the word about CRS’ work through use of the Rice Bowls have the opportunity of receiving their parish’s 25 percent contributions go back to their parish for the anti-hunger ministries they provided. 

Last year was the first year the Diocese met with CRS volunteers of three parishes taking part: St. Catherine of Siena, Farmingdale; St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, and St. Katharine Drexel. Each will be receiving a check representing their parish’s 25 percent contribution for use in their parish’s local ministries.

“Telling people what CRS does helped a lot,” he said. “Making an appeal tied into the Gospel is effective. We are called to do this by Christ specifically and clearly. If we do this for the least of our brothers and sisters, we do it for him. We are helping people directly in a way we are called to do as Christians.”

Rascher suggested, “We need a simple project to bring CRS into the parish’s mindset, for example, the Friday night Lenten soup dinner. A volunteer could pull one of the recipes from the CRS website, make a soup, and post information about the country where that soup came from.”

More great ideas and information can be found at CRSRiceBowl.org.

To become a parish Rice Bowl representative, or for mor information, contact Father Kennedy at mkennedy@DioceseofTrenton.org.