Ex-steelworker forges links in effort to relieve hunger Driver's efforts supply food transport network from haves to have-nots

November 28, 1995|By Josh Greenberg | Josh Greenberg,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Robert Freeman feels he has an ideal job -- as a food redistributor.

And his efforts are appreciated. When he drives up to Baltimore-area soup kitchens, the people inside come out to greet him.

Mr. Freeman, 61, a former Bethlehem Steel steelworker, left retirement for a six-day-a-week job driving the truck for the Maryland Food Bank's Second Helping program. He picks up hundreds of pounds of leftovers each day from restaurants, catering halls and other establishments, and delivers them to the needy.

"There's plenty of food around," explained Paul Rolandelli, manager of Second Helping. "It's just not all in the right place."

It is for Mr. Freeman to straighten that out.

He starts each day leaving the Maryland Food Bank's Franklintown Road warehouse with an empty truck, and it is empty when he returns in the afternoon. In between, he redistributes food that otherwise might go to waste.

"If I have to work a little late to get the food out, I work a little late," Mr. Freeman said.

His reliability impresses Nancy White, co-owner of White House Caterers in Catonsville, who said she previously had donated food to other programs. "It was difficult when we were with others. When they didn't show to do their weekly pickup, the food might go bad."

Nick Sheridan, part-owner of Zeffert and Gold Catering in Woodlawn, said the business donates food to Second Helping and suggests that clients do likewise.

"We ask them if they would like the leftovers from their party or if we can give their extra food to Second Helping," Mr. Sheridan said. "I'd say that three-quarters of the people give their leftovers away."

Mr. Freeman's pickup Nov. 14 at Zeffert and Gold included 33.4 pounds of meatballs, a 7.8-pound taco ring and 1.9 pounds of vegetable lasagna, among other items -- 137 pounds in all.

Mr. Freeman said he didn't even ask about the salary when he took the job two months ago, and was motivated in part by a haunting encounter at his church.

The pastor had an appointment, and asked him to take care of a man who stopped by every day at 1 p.m. for food. There was a bag on the table with a sandwich, juice and other items, he said.

"So at the right time I heard a knock on the door. I opened it and I recognized the man there on the stoop. He was someone I went to grade school with. He recognized me, too, but he didn't want to say what he'd come for. He told me he'd come to see the pastor and that since he wasn't around, he'd be on his way."

Mr. Freeman said that as he was driving away, he saw the old friend return for the food.

"He was ashamed about it, you know. I thought about this when I decided to take this job and I still think about it all the time."

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