The Northeast Richland church that birthed the Souper Bowl of Caring — and launched an outreach tied to Super Bowl Sunday — is trying to re-energize a day of community service to go along with the dollars collected to alleviate hunger and poverty.
Spring Valley Presbyterian Church is spearheading the day of service Saturday, serving breakfast in the morning and sending about 125 of its youth and other volunteers into places like God’s Storehouse, C.M. Tucker Nursing Care Center, the Oliver Gospel Mission’s Good Samaritan Thrift Store, Transitions, and the Clemson University Sandhills Research and Education Center.
Teams will visit with shut-ins and assist with yard work, write letters to service men and women, and pick up trash on the Sandhills trails, said Stevie Johnson, a Spring Valley member who is coordinating the service day.
Despite the inclement weather, she said students from Richland Northeast, Blythewood and Westwood high schools have stepped up to volunteer, as have community members who have heard of the outreach.
“We consider this our rebuilding year,” Johnson said. “I really think we will be up to 500 volunteers next year.”
Sunday, the day the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks meet in the Super Bowl, youth will be standing with kettles at the exits of Spring Valley and other participating congregations across the country to urge parishioners to contribute dollars for the hunger cause.
“It’s going to be great,” said Kevin Nunnery, who might be forgiven for feeling as if he has entered a whirlwind of activity on short notice. Just two weeks ago, he joined Spring Valley as its director of Christian education for children and youth, and was quickly drawn into planning for ways the youth and adult members can support local projects.
“I personally will be at the Tucker nursing home,” said Nunnery, who remembered visiting his grandmother in a nursing facility. “It’s a real chance to bring a smile, to bring some conversation to people.”
Harvest Hope Food Bank would normally have been included on the list of volunteer places but the facility suffered water problems this week in its warehouse when a broken sprinkler head ruptured and gushed 2,000 gallons of water into the facility. She said the volunteers who would have gone to Harvest Hope have been reassigned.
Twenty-four years ago, Spring Valley youth came up with the idea of providing “soup to the hungry” on Super Bowl Sunday. The Rev. Brad Smith, then a seminary intern at the church, nurtured the concept until it became a national phenomenon and won support from NFL team owners. Since 1990, $98 million in money and canned goods has been raised, with funds remaining in local communities.
Just this year, the Souper Bowl of Caring moved its headquarters from Columbia to Houston, with support from the Houston Texans owner Bob McNair.
In an op-ed piece written in December, Smith, now pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, paid tribute to the community that put the Souper Bowl in motion.
“Only in Columbia would adolescent youth and retired bankers, housewives, pastors and many more all team up to reach beyond themselves to see Super Bowl weekend become a time of mobilizing young people in every state across America to help those who are hungry and hurting,” Smith wrote. “As it approaches its 25th birthday, and with the help of an NFL owner, it is time for the Souper Bowl of Caring to move to an NFL city. Why? Because it is the best place to dare to see what plans our Lord has for this next chapter. Might it be that the vision of 100 million people giving a dollar each to help neighbors in need on that weekend will come to pass? With God’s help, and with yours, it can happen.”
Smith was advising the youth as a seminary intern in 1990 when he prayed a simple prayer with the youth: "Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.”
That prompted the youth of the church to come with the idea of raising money and collecting canned goods for the local community. The first year, 22 churches participated, collecting $5,700 in Columbia alone.
Three year later, congregations and schools in 36 states joined the effort and by 1997 $1 million in funding and goods had been collected, all going back into the local communities where the funds or goods were raised.
Soon, Smith received the endorsement of Bob and Janice McNair, the first NFL owner to endorse the project. Later, Presidents George H. Bush and Jimmy Carter would become advocates for the charity and in 2006, the Souper Bowl would gain an endorsement from the Super Bowl Host Committee.