Operation Rice Bowl Gives Food for Thought
Typically Well-fed Individuals Go to Bed Hungry during Lent
Operation Rice Bowl (ORB) is a program most familiar to Catholics endorsed by the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) that takes place during Lent. ORB was started in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1975 by Monsignor Robert J. Coll who was a pastor at the St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
Coll spent time abroad in India and other third world countries alongside Mother Teresa helping the sick, dying, starving children and their families when the idea for ORB came about. Once he returned to Allentown in 1974, he reached out to a group of Protestants and Jewish clergymen in response to an international drought.
By 1975, ORB had officially started and received help from volunteers within the community including my own grandparents. At the beginning of Lent, small cardboard rice bowls had been personally delivered by my grandfather Francis J. McCullough Sr., an usher of the St. Thomas More Catholic Church, to 141 parishes in the diocese of Allentown with small prayer cards and instructions included for the next 40 days of Lent. My grandmother, Rita McCullough, also delivered these rice bowls with other volunteers to their fellow parishioners.
During Lent, those who were participating in ORB were to sacrifice a meal or to replace a favorite snack with something light like a salad or water in order to go to bed with the feeling of hunger in their stomach. This served as a reminder to those who went to bed hungry every night of their life. The sacrifice of the meal or snack is what built up the donation money during Lent, although participants could donate more if desired.
The money that was saved was placed in the rice bowl and later collected by the participating parish or school of choice. The money was then used to provide several month’s worth of food, irrigation to improve growth of crops and harvests, education, healthcare, and immunizations that have knowingly saved countless lives. To this day, participants in ORB have risen over $111 million in order to help those less fortunate.
While travelling to third world countries to see how ORB was helping those in need, Coll handwrote a short book, called “One Man’s Journey” which was later typed and edited by Rita McCullough in order for it to be prepared for mass production.
ORB is not a religion thing. Much like hunger, it is a human thing. This is the point Coll wanted to get across. He was able to make it happen through religion, but it spread beyond the cross, and onto those who wanted, and could, make a difference and help those who needed it.
Coll was a good friend to the McCullough family before he left the diocese of Allentown in 1980. Today he resides in Marco Island, Florida and is 82 years of age.
Below is a link to a video interview of Coll discussing ORB and what it is all about: