Church program encourages volunteerism HARFORD COUNTY


March 03, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Staff Writer

Disabled and living on a meager income, Lowell Beer can finally afford to go to the dentist. He pays the dental bills with money he's saving on his food budget.

Marianna Vannucci's Sunday dinner will include ham and fresh vegetables. And for breakfast there's plenty of sausage and fresh fruit -- treats she could seldom afford with her food stamp allotment.

Rocky Anello, on the other hand, never has had to worry about how he would put food on his family's table. But he, too, enjoys buying groceries at a discount price -- then donating them to families in need.

All three are among about 50 people who participate each month in Share, a program at Bel Air United Methodist Church.

An acronym for Self Help and Resource Exchange, Share combines community service and bargain-priced food. For $13 and two hours of volunteer service, anyone can receive $35 to $40 of food each month.

Volunteer opportunities include working for county churches, schools and social service agencies.

A nationwide anti-hunger network, Share was started in 1983 by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego. The program started in the Baltimore area last May and has since attracted about 7,500 volunteers who logged more than 15,000 hours of service just last month, says Carole Rybicki, a recruiter for Baltimore's Share program.

Under the motto "If you eat, you qualify," Ms. Rybicki works with groups such as the one at Bel Air United Methodist to get them started.

In Bel Air, Share has flourished since July. And two other sites, serving a total of about 60 people, have since opened in Harford County -- one at St. Frances de Sales Church in Abingdon, another at St. Ignatius in Hickory.

The Bel Air Share program was started by Bob Veralli, who says his specialty is organizing volunteers. Stricken by Lou Gehrig's disease, Mr. Veralli is unable to continue active involvement, but he still oversees and coordinates the program and inspires those who have worked with him since its inception.

"We all continue Bob's volunteer spirit," says Ron Rivenburg, who helps coordinate the program. "When I took an early retirement, I decided to turn my second career into something I enjoy. And I enjoy helping people."

On Monday afternoon after picking up orders at the Share warehouse in Linthicum, Mr. Rivenburg and members of Share bagged about 800 pounds of food at Bel Air Methodist, preparing for monthly pickup.

And in no time the doors opened and volunteers came in to reap their rewards for donating time: 17 items of food, including chicken thighs, turkey ham, pork sausage, potatoes, broccoli, frozen green beans, pizza rolls, margarine, spaghetti and buttermilk biscuits.

The food is not surplus, but purchased by Share directly from growers and brokers.

Food is paid for with cash or food stamps. The money is collected by volunteers in advance. Though only two hours of volunteer service are needed in exchange for the food, most of those participating in the program donate many more.

Mrs. Vannucci, a senior citizen, logged 28 1/2 volunteer hours in February working with files at the Department of Social Services.

"That's the least I can do in return for the wonderful food," Mrs. Vannucci said. "I have a low income, and if it wasn't for this [Share], I couldn't afford the food," she adds, while carrying out two bags of groceries.

Said Mr. Rivenburg: "But not only those in need qualify for the Share program; that's what makes it so unique. The program is for everyone willing to donate of their time."

And bringing volunteers together who might not cross paths otherwise seems to have a mushrooming effect, says Mr. Rivenburg.

For example, take Mr. Anello, a newcomer to the program who volunteers many hours each week to religious work. He was so impressed with Share that he wants to start the program at his place of worship, the Bel Air Church of the Nazarene. "I love giving of my time," says Mr. Anello. "It's important to share your time with people that need you."

On Monday afternoon Mr. Anello exchanged his volunteer hours for two orders of groceries. Since he's fortunate enough not to be in need of food, he said, he was donating the items to two needy families.

For Mr. Beer though, Share means saving enough money on his grocery bill to finally enable him to pay for dental care.

"The program allows me to do things I couldn't do before, like going to the dentist," says Mr. Beer, an active volunteer with HERO, a Baltimore-based AIDS resource organization.

"This is a great program. It's not just a handout for those in need, but a person has to earn it, to contribute something in return."

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