This past fall, the National Junior Honor Society students at St. Mary’s Springs Academy in Fond du Lac decided that they wanted to take on a special project for Lent that allowed them to play an active role in giving.

Led by sixth-grade teacher Laura Hutchison, the students chose the Rice Bowl program. The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Lenten fundraising project helps fight hunger and poverty in more than 45 countries, and encourages those who give with activities and stories during the 40 days of Lent, rather than with competition or reward.

Traditionally, the cardboard Lent bowls are sent home with the students and brought back after Easter but Hutchison said, together with the students, they decided that it would be a good idea to keep the bowls in the sixth-12th grade classrooms.

Hutchison said, “We’ve had a lot of conversations about why it’s important to give alms during Lent, and the members of the National Junior Honor Society wanted to be able to do that in a way where everyone could be involved every day.”

Having donation bowls in the classroom proved to be a good way to keep it on everyone’s mind. Within the first five days, the students had collected eight full bowls.

Hutchison said, “These kids are amazing. Our original goal was $100 but by March 29, we’d collected 14 bowls and the donations keep coming in every day.”

One morning, a young student walked into Hutchison’s office with a jar filled to the brim; he told her that he’d gone through his mom and dad’s cars and wanted to help. She said that every day children bring bags and pockets filled with change and pour their pennies and nickels into the small cardboard boxes. She said, “They see it adding up and that it makes a difference, every little bit and they’re giving for the sake of the people, not for a prize.”

The students know that for every $40 collected, a family of four will be able to eat for a month, or that rice or seeds will be provided to those who can grow their own food, that people a world away will receive real help they desperately need from the spare change they gather from their sock drawers and piggy banks.

“We want to make it real for them, and this is a way to do that,” Hutchison said. Next year, she hopes to expand and continue on with the Rice Bowl Project and the theme of giving, and incorporate ways to make it more personal for her students, to ask them to take a moment to think about what it would be like to only have rice for a meal and consider how millions of people across the world live.

One student told Hutchison that through this project he’s seen that, “a small amount of change can make a huge difference.”