For football fans across the country, February means one thing: Super Bowl weekend. But for parishioners in the Diocese of Harrisburg, there’s another exciting event with an even better mission behind it: the Souper Bowl Sunday Soup Sale.
The idea was brainstormed by St. Elizabeth’s Guild, the fundraising arm for Catholic Charities of Harrisburg. “We were trying to come up with a fundraising concept,” said Tom Brenner, chairman of the Soup Committee and of the St. Elizabeth’s board. “Some of the women from their parishes had successful soup sales, and we talked about it and said, why don’t we try to do it on a grander scale? The more we talked about it, the more it became interesting.”
Area parishioners clearly agree, as the soup sale has grown on a massive scale, starting with a handful of parishes participating, to nine parishes taking part in the sale this year. “Our first year we made maybe $5,000. It has grown not only in the number of sites, but in the amount of money we’ve raised for the shelters,” Chris Meehan, Director of Development for Catholic Charities, said. In 2023, that number more than quadrupled, bringing in over $24,000.
“If you’d told me in the beginning that we’d be making $20,000 from a soup sale, I would have laughed at you,” Meehan joked. “I think our first year, the goal was maybe to make $2,000, and we’re making $20,000 now. It’s phenomenal. When you think about the money we’re raising, it blows my mind, really, because I can’t believe we’re raising that amount of money with a soup sale.”
The goal is set even higher this year. “It’s just taken off,” Brenner said. “I joked that I want the number to start with a ‘3’ this year.”
There are three programs supported by the Souper Bowl Sunday Soup Sale, which are collectively called the “Homes for Healing.” There is Evergreen House, a rehab for women recovering from addiction; The Interfaith Shelter for Homeless Families; and Lourdeshouse, a maternity home which – in addition to housing – provides medical care and nutrition, parenting classes, case management, transportation and more. And this year, a successful sale is more important than ever, as state funding was cut for one of the programs benefitted by the sale.
“Real Alternatives is a big part of the funding for Lourdeshouse, and that funding went away as of December 31,” Meehan explained. “That’s state funding, and it’s a big part of what we do at Lourdeshouse. The need for private financial support is higher than ever. It’s a new challenge for us. And all three of those facilities are 24/7, 365. They’re open year-round, 24 hours a day. As you can imagine, it’s very expensive to operate those types of programs. Not only are we providing shelter, but it’s food, it’s transportation, it’s case management, so they’re very, very expensive programs to operate, so the need for private donations is very important.”
These are programs that anyone can feel good about supporting, as Brenner explained. “You’re helping unwed mothers and young children; you’re helping families in difficult situations,” he said.
And with the Souper Bowl Sunday Soup Sale, both Brenner and Meehan said they are able to get a wide variety of volunteers and soup makers to participate.
“A lot of people who don’t like to do other things in the parishes like to participate, just because they like to cook. You can involve people from your parish to make soup that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be an active participant,” Brenner said. “They’re not going to run bingo or teach religious ed, but they can make a couple of quarts of soup. I think it attracts a wider opportunity for people who don’t feel they have time to commit to something, but they can spend two hours in the kitchen to make six quarts of soup.”
Meehan agreed. “I’ve learned over the years that there are a lot of people who like to make soup,” he said. “It’s a fun thing for people, I think that’s part of it, and it’s an easy way to support a great cause. Word of mouth has also really helped. And I just think it’s so unique.”
And participating is easy, even for first-time soup makers.
“Right now, we are at nine different locations,” Meehan said of the sale sites. “All the soup is made by volunteers; we supply containers, and volunteers make it. And they can make as little, or as much, soup as they want. We collect the soup the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend, divide it into nine piles, and sell it after the Masses that Super Bowl Sunday.”
This year, soup will be collected February 10 and sold February 11.
When volunteers sign up to make soup, they can pick up the plastic quarts from the Diocesan Center in Harrisburg; then, on Saturday, they bring the soup back. The soup will then be divided equally among the nine participating parishes – and people can make soup even if their parish isn’t taking part in the sale this year.
“They can contact our office, and I will get their information and share it with our chairperson – we have well over 100 soup makers, and she makes the master list – she contacts them primarily through e-mail, and if somebody wants to make soup, they can let me know, and I’ll connect them, and provide them with as many containers as they’d like,” Meehan said. “They can make their soup, and bring it back to us the Saturday of Super Bowl weekend.”
The participating parishes are also publicized through the Catholic Charities of Harrisburg website, as well as on their social media. For those looking to buy soup, there is a recommended donation of $10/quart. It’s become an exciting weekend for local parishioners.
“You walk in, and there is table upon table upon table of varieties of soup,” Brenner said. “The Knights of Columbus in my parish make chili; they have a chili-making day. And we average 90 quarts of chili. What tickles me in my parish… I’ve had 70 different kinds of soup on the table, for people to choose from. There are gluten-free soups now, vegetable, chili… all homemade. Many people make their favorite recipe and share it with people.”
For those unable to participate in the soup sale itself, Meehan said Catholic Charities is always looking for non-monetary donations as well, such as baby supplies for Lourdeshouse and personal care products for all three of the homes. “The more types of donations like that we receive, that’s less money we have to use budget dollars for,” he said. “That’s another easy way to support us.”
The Soup Sale will take place at the following churches on Sunday, February 11:
Holy Spirit in Palmyra
St. Theresa in New Cumberland
St. Joan of Arc in Hershey
Seven Sorrows BVM in Middletown
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Mechanicsburg
Holy Name of Jesus in Harrisburg
St. Margaret Mary in Harrisburg
St. Matthew in Dauphin
The Cathedral Parish in Harrisburg
If you’re interested in participating in this year’s Souper Bowl Sunday Soup Sale, or want more information, contact Chris Meehan at 717-657-4804 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
(Casandra Chesser is a freelance reporter for The Catholic Witness.)
(Photos by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Casandra Chesser, The Catholic Witness