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'SOUPER BOWL' FUND-RAISER ENLISTS AREA CONGREGATIONS

A simple gesture by a handful of church youth groups in South Carolina on Super Bowl Sunday in 1990 has grown into a nationwide effort that last year raised $1.7 million to feed the hungry.

During the "Souper Bowl of Caring," young people at participating churches stand at church doors after services on Super Bowl Sunday and collect dollar bills in soup kettles. The money collected is sent directly to local soup kitchens or food pantries.

Participating churches are asked to report the amounts collected to an information clearinghouse in Columbia, S.C., so the national total can be determined and announced.

This year's collection will take place Jan. 31.

No registration is required, but collection results should be reported by calling 1-800-358-SOUP or contacting www.souperbowl.com.

A nondenominational project, the effort was supported last year by more than 8,600 congregations, including about three dozen in Western New York.

Area denominations participating include Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, United Methodist and Unitarian Universalist churches.

The "Souper Bowl of Caring" was started by the Rev. Brad Smith, pastor of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church, Columbia, S.C., and the church's Senior High Youth Fellowship.

That first year, 22 Columbia churches participated, collecting a few thousand dollars.

Since the effort became national in 1993, a total of $4.5 million has been collected.

"The Souper Bowl of Caring offers people in churches across the country a simple but significant way to join together in caring and unity," said Mr. Smith. "We believe the idea is a gift from God, and we encourage everyone to join the team."

A grass-roots movement, the Souper Bowl of Caring has no full-time staff and uses borrowed office space and a home made letterhead to promote the effort.

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