Souper Bowl ready to tackle hunger

If it's Super Bowl Sunday, then its time for the Souper Bowl of Caring, a youth-driven outreach to alleviate hunger in the Midlands and communities nationwide.

The Columbia-based nonprofit will open a weekend of activities with its third annual Columbia service blitz today.

More than 300 teens are expected to meet at Dent Middle School on Decker Boulevard for a pep rally featuring former NFL player Brad Edwards, a member of the Super Bowl XXVII championship team. Then they will fan out to work in 14 Midlands charities, including food banks and shelters.

On Sunday, those same teenagers and many others will be standing outside the doors of Columbia-area churches, seeking donations. The money collected by youth groups and other organizations is funneled to a local charity earmarked by each group.

Tracy Bender, vice president of communications for the Souper Bowl of Caring, said momentum is building in spite of the economic recession.

"I think the awareness of the need is greater and therefore people are responding," she said Thursday.

The Souper Bowl of Caring was founded in 1990 by the Rev. Brad Smith and the youth group at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Northeast Richland.

Smith, now the senior pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church, prayed then: "Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those without even a bowl of soup to eat."

Since that time, more than $60 million has been raised nationwide.

Last year, 13,500 organizations collected more than $10.4 million. Organizers say they expect young people from 17,000 congregations, schools and civic clubs to participate.

Smith remains as chairman emeritus of the Souper Bowl, but it has a new director.

Ron Goch, a Chicago native and sports marketing consultant, was selected to head the organization and began his duties in October.