Children at Sacred Heart School in Washington look at their Rice Bowl boxes, which Catholics across the country fill with money to support Catholic Relief Services’ programs serving the poor around the world. Proceeds also benefit local efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty.
CS PHOTO BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Children at Sacred Heart School in Washington look at their Rice Bowl boxes, which Catholics across the country fill with money to support Catholic Relief Services’ programs serving the poor around the world. Proceeds also benefit local efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty.

A parish dinner ministry that feeds up to 100 homeless individuals in Washington, D.C. on a daily basis and a program that ensures nearly 60 low-income Catholic school students in Southern Maryland receive a free nutritious lunch every day are just two examples of services in the Archdiocese of Washington directly funded through Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl local grants.

“There are so many parishes doing such good work to serve those experiencing poverty here in Maryland and Washington, D.C. They are doing the work of the Gospel to compassionately serve those in need,” said Catherine Albornoz, archdiocesan CRS Rice Bowl Coordinator. “It is because of generous contributions to CRS Rice Bowl during Lent that we are able to help these outreach ministries with grants.”

Operation Rice Bowl is the Catholic Relief Services' Lenten spirituality program, which encourages prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and brings tangible assistance to those in need. The organization uses 75 percent of archdiocesan donations for its international development and poverty alleviation programs throughout the world. The remaining 25 percent of local contributions are distributed throughout the archdiocese to parish outreach programs, such as the dinner program at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Parish, Washington, and the need-based lunch service at St. Michael School, Ridge.

Charitable donations to the 2016 Operation Rice Bowl of the Archdiocese of Washington enabled more than $23,000 to be distributed to about 35 parish programs that address hunger and poverty. In December, grantee parishes received these awards for their food pantries, school lunch programs, and St. Vincent de Paul Society emergency assistance programs. CRS Rice Bowl also provides resources for families, teachers, catechists, and ministers. 

"CRS Rice Bowl is a powerful vehicle for our Lenten prayer, sacrifices and almsgiving to transform lives,” said Albornoz. “The contributions impact global poverty through CRS and serve our local brothers and sisters through these grants to parish ministries that address poverty and hunger.”

For more than 40 years, Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Washington have participated in Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl, a Lenten sacrificial giving, “faith-in-action” program that grants life-changing funds to support those in need in communities nearby and humanitarian programs overseas. More than 50,000 colorful, cardboard Rice Bowl boxes to collect donations have been sent out to parishes and schools in the archdiocese for families to place in their homes. This activity encourages them to “begin a spiritual journey that changes lives around the world,” according to the CRS Rice Bowl website.

Students at the University of Maryland’s Catholic Student Center recently made 100 lunches of meat, cheese, fruit, water and snacks and passed them out to the homeless in McPherson Square in the District. Thanks to a CRS Rice Bowl grant, the annual event expanded its lunch offering this year and was able to encourage a one- on-one encounter with the community’s poor.

“The CRS grant helped us take a pre-existing event to the next level with a much more nutritious and delicious lunch,” said Lisa Greey Lytwyn, a UMD Catholic Student Center campus minister. “We are very grateful for this funding as it enabled us to try something new, which we hope to continue in the future.”

According to Albornoz, communities can bring the program to life in various ways, through Rice Bowl retreats, guest speakers, incorporating lesson plans into classrooms, or hosting Friday parish Simple Lenten Meals, with meatless recipes available at www.crsricebowl.org/recipe from countries of focus. 

Principal Lila Hofmeister of St. Michael School, Ridge, said the CRS Rice Bowl grant is a blessing and has made a difference in the daily lives of more than 50 school families.

“Our school does not qualify for the government sponsored lunch program. Parents take a leap of faith removing students from a free public education where qualified families receive free breakfast and lunch,” she said in an e-mail. “We believe families that desire a faith based education for their children should be availed the opportunity to attend Catholic school...Seeking a Catholic education can be expensive and the daily lunch costs for a family can be prohibitive. CRS aided us in meeting this need for our families. Our school community is truly grateful for the CRS grant funding.”

For several years, CRS Rice Bowl contributions have helped the dinner program at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, Washington, provide a number of services for low income and homeless individuals. Hundreds of Sacred Heart parish, community and high school volunteers provide dinner for homeless individuals every weekday for up to 100 individuals in a welcoming and a safe environment.  The program also provides free haircuts, warm winter clothing, legal services and referrals to other support services.  Sacred Heart also hosts a city-run hypothermia shelter for very cold days.  In the past two years, the program provided over 40,000 meals and more than 3,500 free haircuts to the city’s most vulnerable.

The Sacred Heart Dinner Program board or directors expanded its services in 2016 to begin helping homeless dinner guests work towards finding homes, as well as offering additional legal services, job training, jobs, transitional and permanent housing for as many individuals as possible. 

Mary Anne Gibbons, Sacred Heart Dinner Program board member, noted that contributions from CRS Rice Bowl, other parishes, individuals and foundations are even more important this year as today immigrant communities face uncertain challenges.  “I anticipate seeing more hunger in our community and an increase in the number of people depending on our dinner program for food and other support,” she said.

This Lent, the archdiocese and Catholic Relief Services invites parishes, schools, and religious education programs to participate in Operation Rice Bowl. For information on Operation Rice Bowl materials, call 1-800-222-0025 or contact Catherine Albornoz at (301) 512-1043 or visit the archdiocesan CRS Rice Bowl website, http://adw.org/crs-rice-bowl/