Food program at church is a family affair Mother, daughter **and son all participate in SHARE

February 27, 1997|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

For three years, the Harris family has made SHARE a family affair -- as both volunteers in and recipients of a program that gives participants about $35 worth of food each month in exchange for $14 plus two hours of community service.

SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) is not a food giveaway for the poor. It's a food distribution program for anybody interested in a bargain.

Family matriarch Judy Harris, 62, of Severna Park helps run the food distribution one Saturday a month at Our Lady of the Fields Roman Catholic Church in Millersville -- one of hundreds of SHARE sites statewide that provide low-cost food.

She signs clients' slips on which they note the community service they did, while her daughter, Barbara Harris, 33, of Pasadena, helps pack food for recipients.

Her son, David Harris, 34, of Odenton, is one of about 25 people who go to the church each month to purchase the food.

Why? "The ability to save some money on food -- that's probably the only reason," said David Harris. "I figured since we qualified, we'd take advantage of it. We do a lot of community service, and that's the basic qualification."

Typically, he gets fruits such as oranges, pears and apples; fresh produce including lettuce, tomatoes, cabbage and onions; frozen vegetables; and meats, including chicken breasts, meatballs, bacon and lunch meats.

He has never calculated how much money he and his family -- his wife, 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son -- save. "But I will make the assumption that it is saving me money," he said.

As a community service, David Harris and his wife visit a woman in a Millersville nursing home twice a month and take another woman to church every Sunday and do her grocery shopping.

The program has existed in the Baltimore metropolitan area for almost five years -- and the Millersville church is one of 275 "host sites" in the state. In Maryland 12,000 bags of food are given out monthly, according to Jean M. McHale, a program representative who finds new sites and supports existing ones from the program's warehouse in Linthicum.

SHARE was begun in San Diego 14 years ago and now exists in 25 cities nationwide. Each is a self-supporting program, able to buy food in bulk and getting support from Catholic Charities, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

In Maryland, sites include senior citizen centers, large apartment complexes, churches and elementary schools.

For last Saturday's distribution at Our Lady of the Fields, two volunteer parishioners left Millersville about 8 a.m., taking two empty vans to the warehouse. They loaded them with chicken, fresh vegetables, potatoes, apples and other food clients had ordered.

When they returned to the church, Barbara Harris and a half-dozen other volunteers helped pack the food into bags and boxes for about 25 recipients. Distribution was done by 10 a.m.

Most recipients there are women and elderly people, and they run the gamut economically and religiously, Judy Harris said.

David Harris is a salesman for a local company and is a member of Our Lady of the Fields, but many who participate in the program are neither employed nor church members.

"You might get some people who are a little more on the poor side, you might get some practical people who know a good bargain when they see one," Judy Harris said. "I think the real theme is that it's for everybody, because everybody eats."

Although the program is set up to take food stamps from public assistance recipients, no one has ever presented any, Judy Harris said.

Once volunteers give out the food, recipients turn in a sheet of paper noting what volunteer work they performed. Typical projects include baby-sitting for neighbors, participating in Girl Scout activities and organizing neighborhood cleanup projects, Judy Harris said.

The work takes her less than three hours a month, including paperwork, and leaves a feeling of satisfaction.

"I get to feel good -- it's something that I do outside of work," said Judy Harris, who also volunteers for other projects through the church, to which she has belonged for about 20 years.

McHale says the program is not just a way to distribute groceries. "It's a little bit more than a low-cost nutritious package of food," she said. "Our ultimate goal is to break down barriers and form better communities."

She said this happens through community service, when people come into contact with people they ordinarily wouldn't meet, and when they congregate to collect the food each month. "It builds that sense of community that people feel is missing in the modern world. That's the spirit that we want to foster."

Anyone interested in getting involved with a SHARE program can call 636-9615.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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