While America turns their attention to the matchup between the Packers and the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, more than a quarter of a million young people are working to transform Super Bowl weekend into the nation’s largest celebration of giving and serving through the Souper Bowl of Caring.

“For over two decades, young people have been inspiring the country to leverage the energy of the Super Bowl to help people in need through Souper Bowl of Caring, raising more than $71 million for soup kitchens, food banks and other charities,” said Tracy Bender, president and CEO of Souper Bowl of Caring. “Together, we all can make a difference through this effort. I hope everyone will find a way to give and serve.”

In 2010, more than 13,000 organizations collected over $10.2 million and every penny went to local organizations that help people in need. Souper Bowl of Caring organizers expect this year to be bigger than ever, with young people from more than 15,400 congregations, schools and civic clubs signed up to participate.

In 1990, Brad Smith, a seminary intern at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, asked worshipers to bring donations of canned goods and money on Super Bowl Sunday to help feed the local hungry.

Inspired by the Spring Valley youth group’s modest start that day, the Souper Bowl of Caring has transformed professional football’s biggest weekend into a the nation’s largest youth-led weekend of giving and serving.

In 1991 the effort went statewide and by 1993 was national. Prominent national advocates include former U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and their wives, as well as the owners of a half-dozen National Football League teams, such as the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins.

Presbyterians Bob and Janice McNair, owners of the NFL Houston Texans, worship at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Houston. H. Wayne Huizenga and family, owners of the NFL Miami Dolphins, worship at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.

Last year Presbyterian churches collected $1,124,514.83. A total of 2,247 groups participated. There are 2,467 groups registered to participate this weekend for Souper Bowl of Caring 2011. The overall goal is $11 million.

“Presbyterians have a rich history and strong tradition of bearing witness of the gospel to the world,” Smith, now an ordained PC(USA) minister who is executive director of the Souper Bowl of Caring, said. “The Souper Bowl of Caring is a contemporary example of that.”

The Presbyterian Hunger Program typically contributes money to the campaign to help meet administrative expenses and provides Souper Bowl resources to PC(USA) congregations.

The Souper Bowl of Caring is as simple as holding soup pots at church doors following worship on Super Bowl Sunday and asking worshippers to drop in a dollar to help those who are hungry.  Each group then gives their collection directly to the charity of their choice — no money is sent to Souper Bowl of Caring headquarters. Organizers simply ask that groups report their collection amount so a national total can be determined.

In many communities, the Souper Bowl has expanded to include a variety of service projects in addition to the Sunday collection of money and food.

To register your congregation, school or group, visit the Souper Bowl of Caring website.