Volunteer provides information, assistance for PATH at airport

HELPING TRAVELERS

April 18, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

Most people spend as little time as possible at the airport.

But Chuck Merkel of Sykesville goes there on purpose.

And he doesn't even get paid.

Mr. Merkel volunteers at the information desks at Piers C and D at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

He is one of 50 volunteers for People Aiding Travelers and the Homeless, or PATH, who will be honored at a luncheon Thursday sponsored by the Maryland Aviation Administration and the United Way of Central Maryland.

The mission of PATH, formerly known as the Travelers Aid Society, is to help people in transit or transition, especially travelers, new residents and the homeless.

"Primarily, it's information and giving directions," Mr. Merkel said.

People will ask him where an airline desk is, or where there's a bathroom, or the best way to get to Lancaster, Pa.

Mr. Merkel said he once helped a woman who had arrived in Baltimore for a conference, but had left all her conference materials behind in her locked office. He helped her figure out where her meeting was.

Some cases are more serious. Once, an airport guard brought him a disoriented woman who had been living in the terminal for three days. Her brother had abandoned her at the airport.

Mr. Merkel found her luggage, which miraculously had not been stolen after three days in a lounge. With a caseworker's help, he said, they found her a place to stay and eventually put her on a bus to her sister in North Carolina.

Not all the work, though, is of a desperate nature.

People often fly into BWI to meet a ship in the harbor, he said. Once, he lost a crew of six Spanish sailors -- only to find them happily ensconced in an airport bar.

"I can get by a little bit in Spanish, and understand a little bit of German," he said.

Carol Greene, director of volunteer services for PATH, said Mr. Merkel has been a PATH volunteer since April 1986 and has logged 718 hours of service.

Mr. Merkel is a unique volunteer, she said, because he often substitutes on short notice if another volunteer cannot work an assigned four-hour shift.

He retired in 1975 from the Air Force.

"I had been a volunteer with USO at the airport, and they folded," Me. Merkel said.

The USO -- United Service Organizations -- volunteers were asked if they would help PATH, and Mr. Merkel decided to stay.

PATH volunteers still help military people.

As of Feb. 28, PATH volunteers at the airport assisted 60,100 people in fiscal 1993, including 836 members of the armed forces.

Mr. Merkel, 62, and his wife, Joanne, enjoy walking and are active Volksmarchers. They also belong to the Calvary United Methodist Church in Gamber.

He said he enjoys his volunteer work, helping those who are seriously in trouble, as well as the off-the-wall adventurer.

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