The qualifications to participate in the SHARE Baltimore program are not very strict.
"If you eat, you qualify," said Carole Rybicki, a coordinator for the international program, for which she is hoping to find at least one sponsor in Carroll County.
SHARE is similar to a food cooperative, except that it is non-profit. It works on a simple premise: In exchange for $13 and two hours of volunteer work, a buyer is entitled to a box of top-quality meat and fresh produce worth at least $30.
In Maryland, the program is operated by Catholic Charities and based in Baltimore. Statewide, 114 churches, Head Start programs, labor unions, apartment complexes, civic associations, senior centers, lodges, schools and other organizations already sponsor SHARE.
While the program is especially attractive to people on fixed or low incomes, it works best if a wide range of people participate, Ms. Rybicki said. The more who buy through SHARE, the better the deal the organization's buyers can negotiate with food distributors, she said.
The program's purpose is two-fold, she said: to provide good, fresh food at minimum cost, and to increase community volunteer involvement. The program is a way for churches or other organizations to reward the many volunteers they already have and to attract new ones, she said.
"The idea behind this is to promote community development," she said. "We need a catalyst, and that catalyst is food. Food unites all of us. It's a universal need."
The two-hour volunteer requirement may be filled in any way the individual wants, she said. It could be as informal as giving a ride to a sick neighbor who needs to see a doctor, or a more structured service for an organization.
Ms. Rybicki spoke to the Community Services Council at its meeting yesterday, hoping to interest one of the members to start up a program. The council is a coalition of social service, religious and community leaders.
"Any group of people that gather for whatever reason" can start a SHARE program, Ms. Rybicki said. The sponsoring organization needs to have about five dependable volunteers to coordinate the distribution, which is done once a month on the fourth Saturday.
She said a sponsor should have at least 25 orders of food to make the program worthwhile. One family could order more than one, as long as they pay $13 and give two hours of time for each package, she said.
The international program was begun 10 years ago by a Catholic lay person in San Diego. It has spread to 26 U.S. cities and several Latin American locations.
Ms. Rybicki said the large buying power of SHARE can command volume discounts on quality food. Each month, the international organization submits 500,000 to 750,000 orders. Professional buyers negotiate the best deals they can around the country, she said.
Every fourth Saturday morning, sponsoring clubs send a truck and a few volunteers to pick up the food at the SHARE warehouse in Linthicum, and bring it back for distribution to members that same day.
As an example, the food package for December includes: frozen turkey cutlets, chicken thighs and drumsticks, pork sausage, turkey bologna and hot dogs; fresh potatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, sweet potatoes, peaches, oranges and grapefruit; frozen corn; pasta; and blueberry muffin mix.
To sponsor a SHARE group, or learn of the nearest existing club, call 636-9615.