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Forty Year Journey Rewards Generations

Home Page Featured Story

Forty Year Journey Rewards Generations

This Lent, millions of Catholics around the United States will place a colorful cardboard box at the center of their family table as a key part of their 40 day spiritual journey. This box is the iconic piece of Catholic Relief Services’ (CRS) Rice Bowl, the Lenten program known to generations of families, which turns 40 this Lent and is celebrating the impact of turning sacrifices into life-sustaining services fighting poverty.

In 40 years, enough dollars, checks and change have been given through CRS Rice Bowl to raise $250 million to fight hunger and help people rise out of poverty in the United States and overseas.

While generations of families in the United States make CRS Rice Bowl a Lenten tradition, generations of people who received services from CRS as children have grown up to be the teachers, healthcare workers, and administrators in their communities.

“Many years ago when I was a hungry boy in Ghana and living without parents or family, the smell of food lured me to the village school. There I was nourished and lifted off the path of likely death. That school food program existed because of the little box we call rice bowl,” said Thomas Awiapo, who today works for Catholic Relief Services and travels to the United States each Lent to share his remarkable story of survival. “My children have never known hunger and it’s because CRS Rice Bowl gives all of us the power to change lives for the better.”

CRS Rice Bowl began as Operation Rice Bowl in 1975 in a parish in Allentown, Pennsylvania. A year later the Bishops of the United States urged Catholics to use the Lenten program as a way to respond to the famine in Africa. The response was outstanding both for the donations it raised and for the solidarity it created among Catholics and with those who are poor and struggling in this world. Today over 13,000 parishes and schools, and countless families use CRS Rice Bowl to deepen their Lenten journey.

“Part of the beauty of the program is that it links the needs of local dioceses with the needs of those overseas,” said Awiapo. Each year, 75% of donations collected through CRS Rice Bowl support Catholic Relief Services’ efforts to overcome hunger around the world, and 25% remains in the local diocese for programs serving the needs of the local community.

CRS Rice Bowl is ready-made to help parents introduce their children to the principles of Catholic social teaching through stories, videos and a daily Lenten activities calendar. The introduction last year of a new CRS Rice Bowl app for cell phones and tablets was particularly popular among young adults and moms as was the series of cooking shows featuring Fr. Leo Patalunghug cooking meatless recipes for Lent.

In a video message launching “One Human Family, Food for All”, Pope Francis said: “I invite all of the institutions of the world, the Church, each of us, as one single human family, to give a voice to all of those who suffer silently from hunger, so that this voice becomes a roar which can shake the world.”

Such love as this saves lives. For 40 years Rice Bowl has been a journey full of acts of love that save lives. This Lent, use the 40 days to do the same as God’s one human family. Imagine what we can do in the next 40 years.

Visit for resources and ideas on how you can bring Lent to life in your home. Download the free CRS Rice Bowl app from the Apple or Google Play. CRS also provides a catalog of simple, meatless meals for Lent, at

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