The Times West Virginian

February 2, 2014

Churches use big game as way of giving

By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian

— Super Bowl Sunday is almost like a national holiday.

The day consists of family, friends, chips and dip, and various other festivities.

But while the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos get ready to square off at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey for Super Bowl XLVIII today, Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont will be having a competition of its own.

With one team representing the Seahawks and the other representing the Broncos, members of Central United Methodist will bring in canned goods and monetary donations today to declare a winner. The competition is friendly, of course, and is used to support services such as the church’s food pantry, which serves the community of Fairmont weekly.

The first Sunday in February isn’t just set aside for a game played on a grassy field filled with sweaty football players. It’s also set aside for the Souper Bowl Day of Caring.

Yes, that’s right: Souper Bowl.

In 1990, Brad Smith of Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., started the idea of collecting canned goods and donations for others in need on the day of the Super Bowl, a day when family and friends alike gather to watch the culmination of the NFL football season. Since then, the growth of the project has spread across the nation and into several churches in the Marion County area.

When people walk into Central United Methodist, they’ll see the normalcies of a church — a pulpit, hymnal books, pews and stained glass — but they’ll also find the bed of a Ford truck, lined with a table cloth and filled with food at the front of the church.

For Central United Methodist, a church that has been participating in the Souper Bowl Day of Caring for eight or nine years, this is the best idea they’ve had yet.

“We always encourage people to bring in food and any type of donation,” Don Downs, a member of the church, said. “This is the biggest thing we’ve done.”

Each year Downs and his counterpart, Debbie Roupe, each takes a team. Roupe usually picks first, Downs said. From there, the two have a faceoff to see which team can collect the most canned food in the back of the truck bed and the most money, which is dropped inside the truck’s gas tank into a bucket underneath.

“We’re really doing something cool this year,” Roupe said. “We’re going with a tailgating theme.”

Roupe and some of the youth said the idea came from one of the kid’s parents and they all ran with it.

“My husband Bob actually sawed a truck bed in half,” she explained. “It was just something he had lying around. I told him about the tailgating theme we wanted to do, and he just ran with it.”

Bob explained that while building vehicles in his spare time, he found just what his wife and the youth were looking for.

“I was building a Ford at the time she told me the idea, and what I had was perfect,” he recalled. “It took about four of us to get it in the church, but now it’s here and looks good.”

The truck bed is decorated with a bumper sticker that reads, “Do you follow Jesus this close?” and a sign that explains the mission: tailgates, tithing and truckloads of food.

In years past the church has done things such as parading the children around the church with miniature shopping carts to see who could collect the most food. Coming up with different ideas for how to collect the donations has always been part of the fun for the entire church.

For the youth, Roupe said, the excitement is a win-win situation.

“The youth get to have fun and learn how to give back,” she said.

Two of those youth, 11-year-olds Hailey McClain and Madison Glasser, said they have enjoyed the event and are having fun with this year’s theme.

McClain has been involved since the beginning and Glasser has just recently started, with this year being her second Souper Bowl.

“We just brought (the truck) in and put a sign on it and that said donations,” McClain said. “Probably about everyone (was asking about the truck). They were just like, ‘Why is there a truck there?’”

The youth explained that bringing the truck in and not telling people directly what it was for made them ask questions and gave the youth the chance to explain in their own words what they Day of Caring and donations were all about.

During explanations, one could find out that the food being given would go toward the annual Booth Festival in which several area churches have another friendly competition while handing out food to those in need. The money collected goes toward buying more canned goods and other items that others may be in need of.

Some of the food also goes toward the church’s own food pantry, which helps anywhere from 30 to 40 families each Tuesday, Downs said.

McClain said the church regularly accepts donations of any kind, but that sometimes something bigger is needed.

“For the normal food pantry, it’s all year round, but sometimes we have big, giant (collections) like the Souper Bowl,” she said. “One time we took a garbage can and decorated it like a turkey and put food inside of that for Thanksgiving.”

Glasser added that having big displays like that helps out with spicing the church up a little bit, adding an extra piece of flare for Sunday worship.

At the end of the day, both admitted that learning to give to others is an essential part of life and a part that warms their hearts.

“It makes me happy because we get to help the community people who need the food,” McClain said.

And the girls know that just because the Souper Bowl ends today, the giving does not.

“It makes me happy to know people get the food from us,” said Glasser. “It just makes me feel happy all of the time.”

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow him on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.