Soup pot at the ready, Demetrius Wilson helped fight hunger yesterday.
"We need greens -- money greens," the 15-year-old member of St. Ann's Roman Catholic Church told those who attended the 10 a.m. Mass.
He got his wish. The noiseless drop of dollar bills mingled with the clatter of change in the pair of soup pots held by Wilson and several other young members of St. Ann's, one of nearly two dozen area churches taking part in a national grass-roots charity effort called the Souper Bowl of Caring.
At St. Ann's, a city parish serving 200 families, the day's total was $208.02. It will be given to the church's homeless shelter.
Nationwide, the total collected for charity was estimated yesterday at about $1.5 million -- about what it costs to buy 30 seconds of advertising during the Super Bowl. Each of the 9,000 or so churches that participated gave the money to a local charity of its choice.
"Sports, particularly the Super Bowl, transcends the differences in our culture," said the Rev. Bradley D. Smith, the minister who started the Souper Bowl of Caring nine years ago at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church near Columbia, S.C. "This program seeks to transform Super Bowl Sunday into a day of being united and caring."
Smith said the idea came to him while he was in pastoral training and was asked to compose a prayer for Super Bowl Sunday.
"The line came to mind, 'Lord, as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without even a bowl of soup to eat,' " he said.
The idea stayed with him after he had spoken the prayer and was joined by a second thought: Millions of people watch the game, and if every viewer gave a dollar to charity, enormous good would result.
He began the Souper Bowl of Caring at Spring Valley in 1990. The next year, 22 other churches in South Carolina participated -- and this year, Smith said, churches in all 50 states took part. Including yesterday's estimated total, the Souper Bowl effort has raised about $6 million for charity. Smith said the final totals from yesterday would not be known until today.
The effort has spread beyond its Presbyterian roots to include various religious organizations, Smith said -- Catholic churches, Jewish temples and a variety of Protestant congregations.
The Spring Valley church helps coordinate a national advertising campaign that includes professional football players and tallies how much money is raised nationwide -- but each church donates the money raised to a food bank, pantry or shelter of its choice.
At St. Ann's, the confirmation class organized the fund raising. About a dozen teen-agers participated, said Sister Jeanne Barasha of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, a pastoral assistant at the 125-year-old church on East 22nd Street at Greenmount Avenue.
The St. Ann's fund-raisers were enthusiastic and creative as they solicited money for the pot from the departing parishioners yesterday. One young organizer applied some good-natured pressure to a visiting Lithuanian priest.
"Can you put a little something in here -- a little 20-something?" Sandra Day coaxed as the Rev. Kestutis Kevalas approached. With a smile, he dropped a $5 bill in her pot.
"That'll do," she said.
When the church had emptied, Day and the others huddled around a table in the St. Ann's rectory to count the total: In change, $12.02; $35 in checks; and $161 in singles, fives and 20s. Barasha said yesterday's collection would be used to buy food for a meal the confirmation class would prepare and serve to shelter residents.
"I think we did pretty good," Day said with a smile.
Sun staff researcher Jean Packard contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 2/01/99