Adults not the only givers at Soup-er Bowl
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — As he gazed across crowd that filled the swank ballroom at Kansas City's Hyatt Regency Crown Center Hotel Dec. 1, Kansas City, Kan., Archbishop James P. Keleher recalled talking to a different audience one day earlier.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Soup-er Bowl participants line up for a cup of soup Dec. 1.
"Yesterday, I spent most of the day in Topeka visiting prisoners," he told the hotel audience during the Soup-er Bowl V luncheon, an annual event co-sponsored by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas to raise awareness of hunger throughout the metropolitan area.
"At the end of my visit, the news media said, 'Archbishop, why do you visit prisoners?'" he said.
"I told them that I know one thing: Visiting the imprisoned and the forgotten is certainly something God wants us to do," Archbishop Keleher said.
"I'm certain that I am on safe ground with God when I visit prisoners, just as you are on safe ground when you feed the poor. Those are the corporal works of mercy," he said.
Concern for the poor was abundant during the luncheon which drew nearly 1,000 people, including Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Danan Hughes.
And it was no more apparent than in the children from Catholic schools who served as greeters, ushers and also as examples.
That very day, students at St. Monica School, in the heart of inner city Kansas City, Mo., conducted their own drive that brought in nearly 700 cans of food for the St. Therese Little Flower Parish pantry, located next door to the school.
"It's a tradition," said eighth-grader Nora Watts, explaining that every student who brought at least two cans of food that day was allowed to attend school out of uniform.
"It makes us feel good to help people during the holidays," said eighth-grader Justin McDonald, who attended the Soup-er Bowl with students and Principal Mary Ann Sadler at a special reserved table.
Catholic high school students on the Missouri side had just completed their own "Food for Thought" food drives. That effort brought in enough food to allow pantries to serve 1,300 families for two months, according to the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocesan School Office.
But as Kansas City-St. Joseph Vicar General Father Patrick Rush reminded the audience, the problem of hunger in the Kansas City area is growing worse.
Substituting for Bishop Raymond J. Boland whose return flight from a holiday visit with his brother, Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga., was cancelled because of fog, Father Rush cited statistics from the Mid-America Assistance Coalition, a clearinghouse for emergency service agencies in the metropolitan area:
"The need for food assistance is increasing year by year," Father Rush said. "That continued increase is why we come back here year after year after year."
- Food pantries on both sides of the state line experienced a 10 to 15 percent increase in 1998 over 1997 in the amount of groceries distributed.
- Soup kitchens experienced a 25 percent increase in the number of meals served during 1998.
- The community-wide Harvesters food network has already distributed 14 million pounds of food to area food pantries and emergency service agencies in 1998. That was a 40 percent increase over 1996.
Father Rush said that hunger is worsening across America because "I don't think we like the poor."
He recalled an instance when, as rector of the downtown Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a group of business leaders asked him to shut down the noon sack lunch program the the Roman Catholic cathedral was operating in cooperation with the nearby Episcopalian Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.
"Their reason was that we were encouraging the homeless to mill around downtown and that hurt tourism and business," Father Rush said. "In other words, we are embarrassed by poverty and our solution is to sweep it under the rug."
Father Rush said the Christian response to poverty is deeper than an occasional donation of canned food or money.
"We prepare for the Lord's coming by attending to the needs of our less fortunate brothers and sisters," he said.
He offered some suggestions: "Volunteer a little bit at a food center. Call a center and adopt a family for Christmas. Support legislators who advocate for the hungry. Provide regular financial assistance to social service centers."
At each of the five annual Soup-er Bowl luncheons, at least one player from the Kansas City Chiefs has been in attendance. Hughes told the audience he and many of his Chiefs teammates realize that they must give back to the community.
"When you see me in the hallways at an event like this, it's because I want to be around this kind of environment," Hughes said.
He recalled receiving a letter from a prison inmate shortly after he and his wife, Tiffani, made an appeal for a particular charity, Outreach for Christ, during a radio show.
"It was from a person who had benefitted from Outreach for Christ as a child, and he sent us a check to help us out," Hughes said. "As much negative that was happening in his life at that time, he still saw fit to send us a check."
At the end of the simple luncheon which consisted of a cup of soup, fresh fruit and a roll, those in attendance were invited to leave donations which would be divided among social service agencies on both sides of the state line.
This year, a total of $2,409.43 was collected, a 33 percent increase over the 1997 Soup-er Bowl luncheon.