In 1980, a pastor from South Carolina went on a trip to Calcutta. Confronted with the realities of poverty, famine and disease, he returned home determined to contribute to orphanages in such communities. But the goal was to innovate traditional methods of giving, creating a tangible reminder of the need in order to make a tangible difference. The result? The Rice Bowl, a small, plastic container that works like a piggy bank, only it resembles a bowl full of rice, the standard meal for much of the world. Thirty years later, Rice Bowls is a respected nonprofit that has collected tens of millions of dollars via Rice Bowl donations to feed and provide for orphans around the world.
Last year, about 1,000 organizations participated in Rice Bowl collections. Banks are provided at no cost to the many churches, schools, businesses and college students who have been involved. Typically, a bank can hold up to $20 or $30, but these seemingly small contributions can add up to great change, much like the coins accumulating within each Rice Bowl.
Dodd Caldwell, the acting volunteer president of Rice Bowls, says their method particularly appeals to younger age groups just beginning to grasp philanthropic ideas. “Giving and service are really abstract concepts,” he says. “They can take this tangible, visible thing they have in their hands and really learn about giving.”
Donations are distributed among 25 different Christian orphanages, located in places such as Haiti, India and South Africa. Caldwell believes the faith-based orphanage is the most effective avenue for fulfilling their specific mission.
“Every child has four basic necessities: affection, provision, protection and instruction. As a Christian nonprofit, we think that means teaching about Jesus, but also how they’re going to grow up to be global citizens, to impact their communities and be leaders. A very well-run, loving orphanage provides the best way for them to receive all four of those things.”
Rice Bowls doesn’t take over the administration of the selected orphanages, but works alongside them, allowing them to free up their funds and better provide for the children. In some severe cases, Rice Bowls assumes a more active role, such as in the relocation of children following the Haitian earthquake, but typically they avoid a country-specific focus.
“What we really like to do is find more well-run grassroots orphanages, ones that can be accountable but maybe don’t have a lot of access to outside funding. We want to make sure the money is being used correctly,” explains Caldwell, who says surprise visits and budget checks are common for even their most established partnerships.
Clearly, Rice Bowls is about more than just the physical nourishment of orphaned children. “We want these kids to be lights in their communities now, but also when they grow up. That’s the only way these communities are going to change,” Caldwell says.
It is this mindset that helps Rice Bowls view the “orphan crisis” as an opportunity for positive change. “It’s a terrible tragedy that they’ve lost their parents. But if we can get them into a loving, faith-based home, we have the opportunity to break generational cycles that otherwise would not have been broken.”
To learn more, visit RiceBowls.org.