Food for more than the body SHARE: Baltimore's Self Help and Resource Exchange assembles and distributes food. But that's only part of its mission.

November 23, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of Maryland residents gather each month to buy food at half-rice, do community service and meet different kinds of people.

They belong to a group consuming food for stomach and soul: SHARE-Baltimore (Self Help and Resource Exchange). Last Thanksgiving, it assembled and distributed 14,000 packages of nutritious food. This year it hopes to do 27,380 packages.

If this sounds like a program for the needy, it isn't. "This is not mainly for the poor," said Peggy Cronyn, SHARE's director. "It's for everyone. We have surgeons and plumbers and everyone in between.

"It can be for people on food stamps, but it's for anyone searching for ways to make ends meet. And, it's a way to feed a hunger that goes by another name, a hunger to belong and connect with others in a meaningful way."

Co-sponsored by Catholic Charities and the Knights of Malta, the service is ecumenical.

"It's wonderful," said Leslie Wood, called "Deacon" for his work at Providence Baptist Church in West Baltimore. "You meet so many nice people from all over." He's a volunteer and SHARE recruiter, having enlisted 23 host sites and 26 volunteers from his church.

For Cronyn, whose roots are in social service, food isn't the only draw. She was a Peace Corps worker in India in the 1960s and later ran the state's refugee resettlement program.

"We're building relationships here with people of different beliefs, creeds, faiths."

Yesterday and today, hundreds of volunteers from 275 central Maryland groups were converging on a warehouse in Linthicum on food distribution day, part of a monthly ritual.

SHARE staffers each month order fresh produce, frozen chicken, turkey, pork or fish, and food staples. Fresh vegetables and fruit from California and Florida are kept in a cooler. Meat is kept in a freezer. The perishables are brought into the warehouse just before customers pick them up.

The absence of fancy packaging and middle men and the use of volunteers further cut food prices.

Each month, about 11,000 families place their orders at host sites. These include churches, senior centers, community groups, unions, Head Start centers, and day care centers.

To be eligible, sites must advertise the program, register participants, deliver members' food money to the SHARE offices and warehouse in Linthicum, pick up the food in Linthicum or three smaller distribution centers around the state and take it back to the sites. Buyers then bring their bags to assemble packages and take them home the same day.

Each package is about 20 pounds and makes five meals for four people or 20 meals for one. People must buy the whole package.

Any person is eligible to buy any number of food packages. He or she brings $14, an Independence Card or food stamps to buy a package that is worth $30. The deal requires all buyers to perform two hours of community service of their choice.

Each month on the fourth Friday and Saturday or before holidays, two or three delegates from the host sites come to SHARE's Linthicum warehouse, at 808 Barkwood Court, off Nursery road near the Beltway.

On this day, volunteers from Villa Julie College and Loyola High School also flock to Linthicum. They help buyers push dollies and gather food items needed to make up predetermined packages. They check to make sure the packages are complete and help load vehicles.

The delegates take the food back to their own sites, where buyers produce a signed slip authenticating community service: work for SHARE, for a church, school, nursing home or any kind of service other than for a family member.

This Thanksgiving, buyers could choose between two packages or take both. There were 14,730 full turkey dinners, for the first time, or 12,650 regular packages with different meats. Ingredients for low-sodium and low-cholesterol meals are featured.

The turkey package contained a 10-pound turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, frozen peas, rolls, apples and pumpkin pie. The regular package had eight to 10 fruits and vegetables, four or five meats such as rib eye steak, chicken breasts, fish fillets, bacon, deli meats and other grocery items.

It's too late to order Thanksgiving packages, but host sites are taking orders through Dec. 8 for next month's pickup on Dec. 21. Interested individuals or groups may call 636-9615 or 1-800-4-SHARE-5. All are welcome, regardless of income.

With 10 paid staff members and hundreds of volunteers, the nonprofit organization also runs smaller warehouses in three locations besides Linthicum: in Denton on the Eastern Shore and Hagerstown and Cumberland in Western Maryland.

They make up one of 25 centers in the country, operated by social and religious groups. San Diego began the SHARE movement in 1983. The Baltimore center opened in 1992, two years after one in Hyattsville began.

One day this week, dozens of volunteers, many retired, were making red mesh bags or packaging oatmeal. They were chatting and enjoying each other's company. Some days workers include emotionally disabled people who take great pleasure in simple, worthwhile tasks. "There's a sense of accomplishment," Cronyn said.

People over 50, many on fixed incomes, make up 50 percent of the customers and count on the reduced costs, Cronyn said.

"Seniors tell me SHARE makes the difference in their budgets."

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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