A handful of NFL teams are still in contention to be this year’s Super Bowl champion, but for local churches the squad to beat is Immanuel United Church of Christ, the two-time defending champion of the Souper Bowl, the Pettis County Ministerial Alliance’s annual canned soup drive.
This is the seventh year for the effort, which comes at a good time for Open Door’s food pantry.
“It is held at a time of year when the weather is cold, and a warm bowl of soup helps get rid of those chills,” said Jack Menges, Open Door’s executive director. “The first few months of the year, people forget about food drives so this is a good effort for us through the churches and the ministerial association.”
Father Jim Betzen, associate pastor of the Catholic Community of Sedalia and president of the ministerial alliance, said this year’s goal remains the same as the past two years – 12,000 cans of soup.
“With a lot of people out of work and struggling during winter months to keep food on the table, it is important to have them have food, but especially canned soup during the winter to keep them warm,” Betzen said.
The church that donates the greatest number of cans wins the Silver Ladle, a much-coveted traveling trophy. Immanuel, which brought in about 1,000 cans last year, has had the ladle displayed prominently the past two years. Council president Julie Bales said it is kept just outside the sanctuary so members can see it as they go in for services each Sunday.
“It is a good reminder of who we are and what we do and why we do it,” she said. “Our congregation does a lot with mission. It is part of our calling, who we are.”
Immanuel doesn’t have a special kick-off event or activity to launch its Souper Bowl efforts. Bales said, “We just start announcing it every Sunday, to remind people to bring cans of soup. And if one of the grocery stores has soup on sale, we make sure everyone knows.”
Betzen said that in a past year, “someone at Walmart or Wood’s said, ‘What is this? Everyone is buying soup.’ Some people buy a case at a time.”
When the Rev. Kim Knowle-Zeller, pastor at Christ & Trinity Lutheran Church, one of the community’s smaller congregations, first heard about Souper Bowl and the Silver Ladle, “I thought it should be a percentage, because there are some awfully big churches out there. But when you have Immanuel winning consistently, it just goes to show you we are a community that cares for each other, no matter what size. And (Immanuel) can serve as a role model for some of the bigger churches, too.”
She also noted that Souper Bowl is just one of the ministerial alliance’s outreach efforts. Being in the community just less than three years, she has found the alliance to be a great resource to learn about outreach opportunities to serve people throughout the community, “sharing God’s love, finding out what is going on, who needs help.”
That level of need was on display last Monday when wind chills drove the temperature below freezing. Menges said that despite the abominable weather, “there were 112 families who came in for assistance.”
Anyone can help with the effort. Residents can drop off soup donations at any church, and Menges said Open Door keeps a tally board to track donations so people can bring soup to the warehouse at 111 W. Sixth St. and let workers know which church should be credited. Donations will be accepted from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The Souper Bowl started Wednesday and ends Feb. 3, the Monday after that big football game.
And speaking of the game, Betzen said, “We were thinking that people who have Super Bowl parties could ask people to bring soup with them, then we can get that to Open Door the day after the game.”
And while packing the food pantry’s shelves is the priority, the friendly rivalry that the Silver Ladle provides helps the alliance and its members reach that goal. Knowle-Zeller said that was evident at Wednesday’s meeting.
“All the pastors were bantering,” she said. “We want to win, to show that our church community cares for people.”