Your Story: Hunger Is No Game
Your Name: Lia james
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Have you ever been to a Super Bowl party? Eaten cheesy dip while rooting for your favorite football team to make it to the top of the NFL?What an incredible article, Lia James! Like we said, we are honored you chose us for this project and excited to share your incredible work. We are so proud of what the Utah community has been able to accomplish through our movement!
And while you celebrated, did it occur to you that while your stomach was full to bursting there were nearly 175,000 kids in Utah who didn't know where their next meal would come from?
Hunger has always been a problem, but in 1990 Rev. Dr. Brad Smith founded an organization in a valiant effort to end hunger nationwide.
Rev. Dr. Smith, a minister in South Carolina, named his organization the "Souper Bowl of Caring" as a play on the name of the climatic NFL championship game, the "Super Bowl". His idea was that if one dollar was donated to fight hunger for every junk food item bought for the big game, hunger in the United States would dwindle rapidly.
In 1990, the first year, 22 churches raised a combined $5,700.
Twenty-five years later, in 2015, about $7.7 million was raised nationally to fight hunger.
Last year the "Souper Bowl" passed the $100 million mark in money and food raised since 1990. But with a record 114.4 million households tuning in to watch the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 this February 1, there's a lot more money that could be raised for the people who need it.
"Hunger in America is a silent problem. You don't see hunger like you see homelessness," explained Marcie Valdez, director of Catholic Community Services Northern Utah. "You can't really look at a person and see that they are hungry. Most families who are struggling with food insecurity are not talking about it. They are silently going without."
A lot of people are involved with the Souper Bowl of Caring. There is a National Board of Directors and a Youth Advisory Board, with 14 teens from across the country.
In 2014, Utah was represented for the first time. Ryan James, the Utah representative to the NYAB, has been working with the Souper Bowl of Caring for about 10 years and first learned about it through St. James Episcopal Church in Midvale.
"I think it's important for people to help fight hunger in their communities and the Souper Bowl of Caring helps them do just that," he said. "It's an unusual charity, in a good way, because it gives groups flexibility with the money they raise so that the money is used as effectively as possible."
The Utah Food Bank has also partnered with Souper Bowl of Caring "since the beginning" when it first came to Utah, according to Food Bank President and CEO Jim Yorgason.
The Utah Food Bank serves all 29 counties in Utah and has existed - under many different names - since the late 1800s when it was part of the Travelers' Aid Society.
The Utah Food bank distributes about 39 million pounds of food throughout the state each year, he said.
"There's hunger throughout the entire state, but there are counties with more need than others, areas where the economy has been hit harder than others," Yorgason said. Food and money raised by the Souper Bowl each year helps with that. "It's helping us feed children."
Fighting hunger is important, because hunger is everywhere. The Souper Bowl of Caring is just one amazing program devoted to helping the helpless. All the money raised during the Souper Bowl stays to help people in the communities where it was raised.
"There are many good charities, but the Souper Bowl lets communities choose how the money will be used - therefore making it a very effective charity," Ryan James explained.
Usually groups celebrate the Souper Bowl by collecting money (sometimes in soup pots) or holding food drives. For example, Harmons grocery store in Salt Lake City collected $53,166 for the Souper Bowl this year.
Hawthorne Elementary School instead held a food drive with grades competing against each other to fill empty bins in the hallways.
A total of 1,538 cans of food were collected this year, earning a school wide pajama day and pizza for the victorious sixth grade classes.
In Utah the focus has been on stopping child hunger.
Accurate numbers are hard to get, but nearly 175,000 school children in Utah qualify for free breakfast and lunch and may not be eating enough when they are at home. Money raised by the Souper Bowl of Caring has been used to start a program in Ogden called "Bridging the Gap" that sends food home with kids on the weekends. It is run by Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah, overseen by Marcie Valdez.
"Kids don't choose to be poor and they certainly don't choose to be hungry," she said.
"Imagine, as a parent, how it must feel to not be able to provide your children with what they want and what they need, especially something as basic as food."
One huge problem pointed out by David James of KUTV 2News, which has run a telethon the past two years to raise money for the Souper Bowl of Caring, is that people don't want to be labeled as hungry, so they "suffer in silence."
Between the telethon and all the groups that participated, $391,106 was collected in Utah this year. But more work still needs to be done, David James said.
"There are still a lot of hungry kids," he said.
"We know that Bridging the Gap is feeding kids in Weber County. There are on campus food pantries and there are more in the making. We also know the Utah Food Bank is buying a mobile food pantry (truck) that will serve 40 schools," he said. "But we still know there are about 175,000 kids who qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and many more suffer in silence."
A lot has been done, but there is still a lot to do. Many kids have been helped but many more are in need. There are inspiring people out there making a big difference. Be one of those people who are working towards change.
"Every great vision starts with a dream, and with commitment and determination, that dream becomes vision, which leads to change," Marcie Valdez said. "If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that passionate hearts committed to a shared vision can accomplish the impossible."