Millersville woman finds running assistance network rewarding


June 20, 1996|By Joni Guhne | Joni Guhne,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN THE PAST 10 months, Cindy Burkert of Millersville has experienced some major life changes, the most recent becoming director of the Severna Park Assistance Network.

First, she got married. Then she and her new husband, Jack Burkert, moved to Shipley's Choice with her teen-age children, Drew and Ellen Thiemann.

In February, when the daily three-hour commute to her job at the Department of Interior in Washington proved to be too much, she resigned. Two months later, she was hired by SPAN.

"Barbara Birkenheuer was able to stay for three weeks after I was hired, so I had excellent training," Burkert said of SPAN's first director.

SPAN, which supplies emergency food and financial aid to county residents, is supported by 14 area churches and a 25-member board of directors headed by Dorothy Parker.

"There is a home atmosphere at SPAN. When you enter the building, you walk into a living room with a fireplace. My office is a former sun porch," Burkert said of the headquarters at 400 Benfield Road. "The setting is more calm and gracious than you might expect at another agency."

The success of the agency depends on the energy of its volunteers. Burkert estimates that workers donate as many as 320 hours a month, which is the equivalent of two full-time employees, a financial burden that SPAN could not afford.

"Pantry volunteers can work as little as a couple of hours a month," she said. "Volunteers who interview clients work a minimum of four hours a month, most opting to work twice a month for a total of eight hours."

"I thought Arlington [Va.] was a small town in disguise, because everyone knew each other and there was a lot of community action," Burkert said. "But, I have never seen anything like the outpouring in Greater Severna Park. People find out about a specific need and, without hesitation, they say 'Oh, I'll do that.'

"One of my pantry volunteers noticed something was lacking, and the next day a bag containing just what was needed anonymously appeared on the front porch. It's very touching."

In addition to its volunteers, SPAN depends on the financial support of civic groups and individuals. The money the agency gives clients very rarely covers everything. One unpaid utility bill can be as high as several hundred dollars.

"There was a recent situation where a family with several children was facing eviction. Unfamiliar with county agencies, they came to SPAN," Burkert recalled. "I put them in touch with the Department of Social Services which can give emergency housing grants. With its help and the help of some other agencies, they were able to avoid being evicted. That was a tremendous feeling of satisfaction."

Burkert expressed surprise at the quick turnover of food in the agency's pantry. "I look at the food we have, and we're only running about six to eight weeks ahead of demand," she said. "Because of successful food drives in the spring, the supply is looking good right now, but with school, Scout troops and many organizations out for the summer, some food items could run out by summer's end."

The new director hopes the agency will become more attractive as a recipient of memorial gifts and bequests, and thereby be better able to perpetuate funding through both good and bad times.

To offer your help, call 647-0889.

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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