IRENE LAWTON of Dundalk is a cheerful, lively and responsive person. A faithful volunteer, Lawton is full of praise for the Community Assistance Network (C.A.N.)in Dundalk where she has volunteered for seven years.
When asked what she does there, she laughs. ''Oh I'm just a general flunky, stuffing envelopes, entering names on a computer, and whatever is needed. Also I go to different distribution sites three or four times a year to give out surplus food which comes from the federal government,'' she says.
C.A.N. has been in existence since 1965 serving Baltimore County residents who are low-income, handicapped or elderly. Its mission is to get people out of poverty and to teach them to be self-sufficient.
Pat Shaney, the organization's administrative officer, says, ''In order to do this we have many projects which will take clients through the necessary learning stages. We may need to help them get their GED, find a job, work with our housing counselors to find affordable homes and to be counseled, have their homes weatherized or be fed through our food pantries. Clients may need one or all of this kind of help," she adds. "Plus we have a fuel fund -- a match program with BG&E.
''We served just under 40,000 needs last year . . . one client may have had three or four needs such as food, housing, counseling and more,'' she says.
Clients are referred from social services, other agencies or from clients who have already received help.
Irene Lawton bubbles with enthusiasm when she talks about C.A.N.
''I love the people and can't wait to get there to help,'' she says. Irene also volunteers at the Manor Care Rossville nursing home where she visits residents and calls Bingo on Tuesdays.
Irene, 71 -- ''and proud of it'' -- retired from the American Can Co. in 1983 after 35 years of service. A widow, she has a daughter and son, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. ''I also have two Chihuahuas, ages 12 and 9, plus a darling mutt, age 7, which I found several years ago.''
The main office of C.A.N. is at 7701 Dunmanway in Dundalk. There are three other centers and a total of 28 staff members, according to Shaney.
Other locations are in the Liberty Family Resource Center, 8737-B Liberty Road, Randallstown; in the Eastern Family Resource Center, 9100 Franklin Square Drive, Essex, and at Main and Wesley Avenues, Catonsville. C.A.N. is funded by federal, state and Baltimore County along with private donations.
In addition to government surplus food, which is distributed in donated sites such as churches, school and VFWs, C.A.N. centers all have food pantries stocked with non-perishable foods donated by large companies.
''It is emergency food and is particularly helpful to those who are applying for food stamps and haven't any food to tide them over,'' says Shaney.
C.A.N.'s executive director is Robert Gajdys, and its development director is Anne Lee.
Volunteer needs include ''clerical help always,'' says Shaney. ''Also we have a warehouse full of furniture which we give to clients, and which is in great need of straightening out. Also the food pantries could use help,'' she says.
To volunteer to C.A.N., call Pat Shaney at 285-4674.