Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre blesses Rice Bowl containers at the Feb. 21 launch of the annual poverty relief campaign (assisted by a student from Little Flower Catholic High School) at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Philadelphia as Father Efren Esmilla, pastor, looks on. Now in its 45th year, the Catholic Relief Services initiative raises significant funds to address hunger at both the global and local levels. (Photo by Sarah Webb)

As a mother of seven, Evelyn Bailey knows what it’s like to feed a large family.

“Very expensive,” said Bailey, a member of Our Lady of Hope Parish in Philadelphia’s Logan section. “Especially when you have more than two children today, it’s very hard.”

So Bailey — a volunteer at the parish’s food pantry — was delighted when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia kicked off its 45th annual Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl initiative at a Feb. 21 press conference and prayer service in the pantry’s dining area.

Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre, who oversees the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Human Services, blessed the archdiocese’s participation in the nationwide Lenten program (Feb. 26 to April 9), which blends prayer, fasting and almsgiving to address poverty across the world and close to home.

In 2019, the archdiocese raised $394,000 through the Rice Bowl program, with some $295,000 (or 75% of the total) supporting CRS’s humanitarian response and development programs in more than 100 countries. Approximately $98,500 (25%) was directed to archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) to support hunger and poverty relief at 50 local food cupboards and soup kitchens, including the one at Our Lady of Hope.

The change collected in the cardboard Rice Bowl containers has added up considerably over the years. Since its 1975 inception in the Diocese of Allentown, the program (which was adopted by the Catholic Church nationwide in 1976) has raised more than $250 million, with $62.5 million funding U.S. diocesan outreaches and $187.5 million assisting CRS’s international efforts.

(Watch the Facebook Livestream of the Feb. 21 CRS Rice Bowl kickoff.)

ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA LAUNCHES 45th ANNUAL RICE BOWL IN CONJUNCTION WITH CATHOLIC RELIEF SERVICES

This morning, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia kicked off its 45th annual Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Rice Bowl initiative, the nationwide Lenten program that gives people of all ages a way to put their faith into action through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.The kickoff took place at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Parish, Church of the Holy Child’s food pantry located in the City of Philadelphia’s Logan neighborhood.Auxiliary Bishop John J. McIntyre, who oversees the Secretariat for Catholic Human Services as part of his administrative and pastoral responsibilities, presided over the blessing. In addition, Ms. Anne H. Ayella, CRS Diocesan Director; Ms. Maureen McCullough Esq., CRS Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Regional Director; Ms. Ella Guimond, CRS Relationship Manager; Mr. James Amato, Secretary for Catholic Human Services; Ms. Lizanne Hagedorn, Executive Director of Nutritional Development Services (NDS Community Food Program); Reverend Efren V. Esmilla, Pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish, and Ms. Bernice Oakman, Food Cupboard Coordinator at Our Lady of Hope Parish were all in attendance.#CatholicFacebook #ArchdioceseofPhiladelphia #Philadelphia #CRSRiceBowl #Lent #AshWednesday #FridayFeeling #FridayMotivation #FacebookLIVE

Posted by Archdiocese of Philadelphia on Friday, February 21, 2020

Through the initiative, CRS also seeks to address technological and economic gaps that can reinforce poverty in developing nations. Funds support projects that improve access to clean water, health and nutrition services, agricultural expertise and small business financing.

CRS is the official relief and development agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While sacrificial giving is central to Rice Bowl, and the guidelines suggest donating an average of $3 for each meatless Lenten meal, the program also works to bridge cultural gaps by featuring the stories and recipes of CRS clients.

“We blend the global and the local with Rice Bowl,” said Anne Ayella, CRS director for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

As part of that aim, the Philadelphia Archdiocese will also participate in CRS’s Global Solidarity Week (March 22 to 28), the theme for which is “From Elementary Schools to Retirement Communities: Unifying People from Philadelphia with Our Global Neighbors.”

The week will conclude with the annual archdiocesan Cultural Heritage Mass, which will be celebrated March 28 at 2 p.m. in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

At the Feb. 21 kickoff, Little Flower Catholic High School seniors Amber Timber, Cassidy Foley and Kelly Bauer led prayers of petition for children from Honduras, Vietnam and Kenya whose stories are featured in the 2020 Rice Bowl campaign.

“When we lift others up, don’t we truly lift ourselves up?” asked Maureen McCullough, CRS’s northeast and mid-Atlantic regional director.

Many Catholic schools incorporate Rice Bowl collections and prayers in their catechesis and curriculum during Lent, with Little Flower among them.

“We actually have Rice Bowls that go through our theology classes and through our community service projects,” said Timber.

Bernice Oakman, who helped found Our Lady of Hope’s food cupboard last year, said that in her experience “people are happy to donate, and happy to see that they’re helping” their neighbors.

“You would not believe how many lives this place has changed in the community and beyond,” said Oakman, noting that the outreach, which initially served 10 families, now helps more than 100.

Many times, those seeking the pantry’s assistance are from among what analysts call the “working poor,” who struggle to make ends meet despite being employed.

“Life is expensive,” said Bailey. “If you’ve been there, then you know what it’s like. But it’s all about giving, and it just does my heart good.”

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Staff writer Maria Pisano contributed to this report.

For more information on participating in the CRS Rice Bowl program through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, contact Anne Ayella at 215-895-3470.

Download the CRS Rice Bowl app in English or in Spanish, and read CRS stories of hope or find meatless recipes from around the world.