Food exchange gets enthusiastic support 'If you eat, you qualify' for low-cost SHARE program ELLICOTT CITY/ELKRIDGE

June 21, 1993|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Contributing Writer

Four churches in Elkridge and Ellicott City have embraced a program to supply low-cost food for the needy, seniors and others in exchange for volunteer work and a small fee. The Self Help and Resource Exchange (SHARE), a program begun in San Diego in 1983, emphasizes community involvement.

"Our program is for anyone who wants to work in the community and who wishes to give something back," said Peggy Cronyn, director of Baltimore SHARE. "We want to give the idea that community service is not something we have to do but something we would like to do."

To obtain food, participants must pay $13 in cash, food stamps or "independence" cards -- food credit cards issued by the state to people with limited incomes. Also required are two hours of community service -- which might be anything from telephoning a sick friend to carrying SHARE groceries for a senior. In turn, participants receive a 30- to 40-pound food package that includes meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other groceries.

Thelma Owens, an Elkridge resident in her mid 70s, suggested SHARE at her church after observing the program at a senior center in Baltimore County. She has been a participant of the program since it began in April at Grace Episcopal Church Outreach, her parish.

"It's a lot of food for a little bit of money and the volunteering that you do is so comfortable," she said. "It was told to us that if you have sufficient food yourself, you can share yours with someone who has less."

Mrs. Owens and her husband, Norris, volunteer their time at the church in several activities. Ms. Cronyn said there are 170 host sites in Maryland serving a total of 10,000 families. In Howard County, 200 people participate in the program.

"We are not a program which specifically targets poor people, although many participants have limited income," said Jim Reusing, a seminarian at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City. Mr. Reusing said the SHARE project, which has been in existence at Resurrection for four months, includes about 100 people. "We have a cross-section of participants who are seniors, single parents and people who live alone."

St. Luke's A.M.E. Church of Ellicott City has been a host organization for SHARE since last July and serves an average of about 32 participants a month. They include young families, seniors, and single parents.

Because some of the seniors are not able to contribute to community service, some members of the congregation buy the food packages and donate them to the seniors, said Melba Jones, a coordinator of the SHARE program at St. Luke's.

The Elkridge Christian Community Church -- a host organization since April of 1992 -- has 35 participants in their program, which also represents a combination of seniors, singles and young families.

Starting with 33 people, the Grace Episcopal Church Outreach kicked off the SHARE program and by its second "D-Day" -- distribution day -- had 41 people signed up for food packages.

Orders are picked up by the various host organizations around the state from the SHARE warehouse in Linthicum once a month. They are then distributed to the host sites. The same distribution days are scheduled nationally.

"If you eat, you qualify," said Debby Metzler, outreach committee adviser at Grace Episcopal Church. Her committee became involved when several senior members of the church asked to participate after hearing about the program from friends. Nonetheless, the program has "young families, singles and yuppies" in addition to seniors, said Mrs. Metzler.

Participants pay $13 per package, and orders are taken a month ahead of distribution day. SHARE workers then issue community service receipts requiring at least two hours of work per food package.

Mrs. Metzler says there are no "strong guidelines" specifying community work to be done -- only suggestions that she posts on a chart. It lists such duties as cooking for a sick neighbor or volunteering at the public library.

On food distribution day, community service receipts that have been initialed to verify the work done are turned in.

"There is no [legal] verification; we do it on an honor system," said Denise Smallwood, coordinator of the church's SHARE committee. "We are trying to promote community service; if a person fudges it, it's on their conscience."

Her nephew, 10-year-old Iain Smallwood, didn't fudge it when he volunteered his two hours. He spent the Saturday before the church's first distribution day at the warehouse tying knots in the hundreds of mesh bags that are used to carry the food.

"It was fun, but it was a lot of work," said the fifth-grade student who attends Elkridge Elementary School.

Nevertheless, Iain signed up again. "My aunt told me about the project and I wanted to do it. Now I'm hooked on it," he said.

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