Since 1975, a Lenten activity for many Catholic schools has been to participate in Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl project. Teachers hand out the little cardboard rice bowls for students to take home to their families and, over the course of Lent, they fill the bowl with spare change or donate their allowances or other earned money to the Catholic charity’s cause.
Often, the conversation about what the rice bowl is or who it serves ends there. But students at St. Anastasia School in Fort Pierce are making it a part of their Lenten journey to keep the conversation going among fellow students all Lent long.
Paula Stapleton, a fifth-grade religion teacher at St. Anastasia School, put a twist on the CRS Rice Bowl project by having her students research the countries benefitting from the organization’s mission. The fifth-grade students came together in groups and presented their findings to younger students in first through third grade, focusing on making personal connections between the children of St. Anastasia with the children of Madagascar, El Salvador and Timor-Leste—a small Southeast Asian nation just north of Australia.
Stapleton said, “Many students illustrated the conditions in which the people in these countries live by saying, ‘How often do you easily walk to the kitchen to get yourself a glass of water? Is it clean and fresh? Now imagine if you had to walk as far as from school to downtown Fort Pierce for a sip of water from a muddy river.’ This statement really connected the dots for our younger students about how blessed we are with our daily comforts.”
For fifth-grader Liv Laughlin, this project changed how she will participate in Lent.
"We think it is hard to give something up for Lent but, other people don't even have access to some of the things we are giving up," she said.
According to the CRS Rice Bowl mission, donations to the organization’s service project are a way to “share your life and your abundance with our global family in need. Matthew’s Gospel invites us to remember that we are responsible for helping all our sisters and brothers, even those who are strangers to us. When we do this, we care for Christ.”
The Catholic Relief Services website states that one out of every 10 people worldwide suffer from malnutrition. Sometimes this is caused by natural disasters like floods and droughts. Other times, families don’t have enough money to buy the food they need, or the food available to them doesn’t have all the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy. Catholic Relief Services helps communities find solutions to each of these problems: farming families learn new skills and grow stronger, healthier harvests; communities train health care workers so children can get regular check-ups and parents can learn new nutritious recipes to make sure their families get a balanced diet; and people in vulnerable areas prepare for unpredictable weather that could destroy crops.
“After learning about the people of Madagascar, El Salvador and Timor-Leste, my students were coming to me eager to share all kinds of facts. They took to the project like it was their job to raise all of the money for CRS Rice Bowl. Their desire to do good was incredibly moving,” said Stapleton.
Fifth-grader Lily Blum said, "I think the younger students were surprised by the people in El Salvador. They walked for miles to get water and the water wasn't even fresh. We can get something to drink whenever we want. That's why they need our help."
This desire to “help thy neighbor” is exactly what Stapleton aimed to embody in a Lenten service project. She shared that in class, her students are learning the precepts of Lent—fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—the last of which ties into the CRS Rice Bowl.
“It’s not just the student participating in this project, they’re showing others how they can enrich their Lenten journey through almsgiving. It’s a small way to change hearts in a mission to be closer to Jesus,” she said.
The idea that a small sacrifice can have a large impact is precisely what CRS Rice Bowl espouses in their Lenten materials. The organization’s online resources teach that “almsgiving has the power to transform the world. We reflect on the needs of the world and how God is calling us to meet those needs through prayer. We make room for the needs of others—and for God’s Holy Spirit to work within us—through fasting.”
An added learning opportunity for the fifth graders of St. Anastasia is that 25 percent of donations remains in the local diocese to support hunger and poverty alleviation efforts. In the past 45 years, CRS Rice Bowl has raised nearly $300 million for families at home and abroad.
The students’ presentations were broadcast through St. A Live, the school’s morning announcement system, as well as presented to the younger students in the cafeteria.
To learn more about St. Anastasia School, visit saintanastasiaschool.org or call (772) 461-2232. Follow the school on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @StAnastasiaSchool. Stay connected with the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Palm Beach online at diocesepbschools.org. For updates on the 18 diocesan Catholic schools, follow the office on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @DoPBCatholicSchools.
The CRS Rice Bowl project is part of St. Anastasia School’s ongoing service projects for each grade level. Notable service projects from the 2020-2021 school year include:
Second Grade - the collection of $1,178 for a mission school in Tanzania
Third Grade – the collection of 85 Boxes of Joy collected through Cross Catholic Outreach
Fourth Grade –the collection of 242 jars of peanut butter for sandwiches for the hungry and homeless
Eighth Grade – the collection of Christmas toys for 20 children from St. Juan Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center
To learn more about CRS Rice Bowl, visit crsricebowl.org to donate, access Lenten resources, and hear the stories of hope from individuals who have benefitted from the program.