By Kateri Mancini
For The Visitor
The onions on the shelf at a local central Minnesota grocery store cost around $1.28 per pound. But to Safiata and Mardy, they are worth so much more.
Safiata is a mother and grandmother in Burkina Faso, where the dry climate and short supply of water has made farming difficult. She and her family often go hungry. But thanks to Catholic Relief Services’ agriculture and irrigation programs, she has been able to acquire more land, as well as learn how to grow new crops — like onions — that can help her thrive all year long.
In addition to the gained food security, having added produce to sell at market has allowed Safiata some income to help with school fees for her children and grandchildren.
Mardy Peterson is the president of the Long Prairie Emergency Food Pantry, where job loss, medical expenses and family transitions create financial hardships for many families throughout the communities it serves. The food pantry has been able to provide food and toiletries for as many as 24 families in a day.
In addition to the non-perishable food donations received by individuals, through the help of grants and Second Harvest programs, Mardy is able to purchase more food for the dollar — including fresh produce, such as onions — to help the pantry’s assistance go even further.
What do Safiata and Mardy have in common, besides onions? They are both recipients of help from Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program.
Making a difference
Originally begun as one diocese’s effort to help fight famine in Africa, the Rice Bowl program has since grown to a nationwide effort, now in its 43rd year, that invites Catholics to help combat hunger — not only afar but in local communities as well.
Seventy-five percent of all Rice Bowl funds collected during Lent go to Catholic Relief Services’ global hunger programs, such as those that helped Safiata and her family.
Global programs range from agriculture initiatives to help improve crop yields, to water and sanitation projects that bring clean water to communities, to microfinance opportunities for small business entrepreneurs, mother and child health and nutrition services, and education projects that offer resources and training. Focusing on alleviating hunger and poverty, these programs are making a difference in some of the most in-need communities throughout the world.
The remaining 25 percent of Rice Bowl funds collected in the Diocese of St. Cloud are retained locally and distributed as grants to church and community-based hunger-relief organizations in Central Minnesota, such as the food pantry where Mardy volunteers.
Last year, 11 organizations were awarded at total of $30,200 in grants to help lessen hunger right here in the diocese. These organizations’ efforts range from supplemental food distribution, including after-hour emergency options; nutrition and health promotion, including cooking classes; referral and educational resources; free community meals; student food programs during the summer months and after-school programs; special holiday offerings; senior dining efforts, including home-delivered meals; community gardens, and produce programs at area farmers markets. Through their outreach, these organizations are making a difference for some of our most-in need members of our local communities.
The St. Cloud Mission Office, which administers the Local Rice Bowl Grant, is proud of the work being done locally and globally, and of the generous people of the diocese who make it possible.
“Over my 10 years coordinating our diocesan involvement with CRS, I’m so impressed by the involvement of virtually every parish in this marvelous Lenten Rice Bowl program,” stated Father Bill Vos, diocesan director of Catholic Relief Services. “It is a genuine privilege for those of us on our Mission Office staff to be the conduit between our generous donors and those in most need.”
This year’s Rice Bowl program has taken on a special theme, following the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign kicked off by Pope Francis last September. As part of this ongoing effort of the universal church, Rice Bowl, too, is focusing on ways in which we share the journey of those in need, particularly migrants and refugees.
“From CRS’ work in more than 100 countries, we know that people do not want to leave their homes, that they do so because they feel they have no other choice,” explained Joan Rosenhauer, vice president of church engagement for CRS. “Lenten sacrifices contributed through CRS Rice Bowl help give them that choice by providing sustenance and livelihoods.”
Catholic Relief Services representatives say the goal of this year’s program “is to go beyond collecting money and spur discussions — both in churches and around family dinner tables — about the meaning of Lent and the daily reality that people living in poverty face.”
Rice Bowl offers a tangible way to meet this goal by sharing the stories of our brothers and sisters from various communities both globally and domestically, and by offering daily reflections and prayer resources, simple meatless recipes for each week, and activity guides for parish leaders, in addition to the familiar cardboard box in which individuals and families can collect funds.
“What a perfect marriage of Catholic global vision and concrete action,” Father Vos said. “Catholic Relief Services seized the opportunity to respond to Pope Francis’ request that all of us ‘Share the Journey’ of immigrants and refugees by making it the centerpiece of this annual Rice Bowl Lenten program. Literally, it can become a daily participatory process for each one of us and each member of every family.”
Those families include Safiata and Mardy, for whom Rice Bowl programming and funds have helped tremendously.
“The vegetables help solve the problems my family faces,” Safiata says of the onions and other produce CRS helped her to grow.
“A big factory will be closing here in early April,” Mardy shared, “so we’ll be really flooded until the close to 300 people find work again. The Rice Bowl Grant will help us so much.”
From Burkina Faso to Todd County, the issues of hunger and poverty are real for many of our brothers and sisters. Rice Bowl offers an opportunity to help combat the struggle on both the global and the local levels. Through Rice Bowl and our Lenten practices of learning, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can help others like Safiata and Mardy, who share more than just onions in common. They, like all of us, share this journey.
Organizations interested in applying for the Local Rice Bowl Grant can obtain the grant guidelines and application form by contacting the Mission Office at 320-251-1100 or visiting www.stcdio.org/mission.