Middle and high school students from more than 20 Catholic schools around the Archdiocese of Louisville gathered at Mercy Academy Feb. 10 for the annual CRS Rice Bowl luncheon.
The luncheon, returning in-person after a virtual year due to COVID-19 restrictions, educates students about the work of Catholic Relief Services.
Laura Dills, president of Presentation Academy, was the keynote speaker. As a former staff member of CRS, she was poised to describe with firsthand accounts how impactful Rice Bowl donations can be.
She explained how one beneficiary in Madagascar, where she worked for more than three years, had to walk several miles a day for water just to brush her teeth. Young women in the villages often don’t have time to go to school because their days are spent fetching water. Water for cooking required collecting firewood, too, she said.
“It is a privilege to have potable water in your house,” Dills said, noting that CRS helped more than 200,000 people in Madagascar access clean water from 2010-2013.
“Your donations help people like this beneficiary to have water in their village,” she said.
“Misaotra is ‘thank you’ in Malagasy,” which is the native language in Madagascar, Dills explained. “Misaotra from the people for your donations.”
The Rice Bowl program is recognized by its means of collection — small cardboard boxes in the shape of a bowl are meant to collect change and bills throughout the Lenten season. These collection boxes are available to families through their churches, as well as at schools for students to organize drives and collection goals for their classes.
Lenten alms donated through the Rice Bowl program support CRS’ work in more than 40 countries each year, including Guatemala, Bangladesh and Rwanda.
After lunch, students from St. Stephen Martyr School gave presentations on the difficulties those countries are facing.
Over the past five years, the Archdiocese of Louisville has raised more than $500,000 for CRS with Rice Bowl gifts, according to Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Louisville, who spoke during the luncheon.
“They always say you can’t take your money with you,” he said during the program. “Sometimes you can, you just have to give it to someone else to carry it for you.
“Every time you give a gift to others, I hope you think, ‘Wow, I may be missing it, but someone else is using it more and they might carry it to heaven with them.’ ”
Twenty-five percent of all donations collected through the Rice Bowl program stay in the community in which the funds were collected. In the archdiocese, those funds go to Catholic Charities.
Lunch was provided by Common Table, Catholic Charities’ culinary arts training program. Students were treated to a simple meal of lentil soup and water.
Mary Wurtz, coordinator for parish, schools, and advocacy engagement at Catholic Charities, said the luncheon was held earlier than in previous years to give schools time to formulate a fundraising plan.
“It’s always been on Ash Wednesday, but we had it earlier this year to give schools time to make a game plan before the start of the 40 days,” she said. “It used to be they were already a week into their fundraiser time before they had a plan.”
After lunch, Wurtz spent time brainstorming with students about how to kickstart collections in their schools.
Becky Montague, Mercy Academy’s president, called on the students to remember the parable of the mustard seed in St. Luke’s Gospel. “It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
“If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move a mountain,” she said. “Who here has had a Big Mac? The seeds on the bun of a Big Mac are sesame seeds. The mustard seed is even smaller than the sesame seed. Small things done with great love can move mountains. You are enough.”
Additional Lenten resources can be found on the CRS website — crsricebowl.org — including meal ideas, stories of hope and Lenten reflections.