SHARE program based on self-help

Participants add $15 to volunteer hours for food packages

May 24, 1999|By Ariella Cohen | Ariella Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Walking through the cavernous warehouse, the first thing you notice is the huge banner hanging over the towers of storage boxes and tables of packaged food. Colorful letters proclaim "WE [LOVE] OUR SHARE VOLUNTEERS," a red-crayon-scrawled heart in place of the word "love." This is no run-of-the-mill warehouse.

Founded in 1983 by Carl Shelton of San Diego, SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) credits Mother Teresa for its inspiration. After volunteering in her shelter in Calcutta, India, Shelton wanted to help people in his country. Food distribution was Shelton's way of forging stronger communities.

An international organization active in 14 states, SHARE provides low-cost food in monthly packages, giving participants a chance to help themselves and others.

"SHARE is an opportunity for good people to receive good food in exchange for the good they have done," says Robert E. O'Brien, a Howard County participant.

Encouraged to reach out to their communities, many SHARE members perform volunteer service independent of the organization. In addition to helping with the monthly distribution of SHARE packages, Mary Bell of Owen Brown Place apartment complex volunteers three days a week at the Florence Bain Senior Center.

"I love volunteering. I get great enjoyment from doing what needs to be done and seeing people satisfied, and that's why I like SHARE so much," Bell says.

SHARE offers its packages to anyone willing to perform two hours of volunteer work in the community and pay $15 for each food package. The majority of SHARE participants live above the poverty line, but the organization serves a wide spectrum of people.

From its Linthicum warehouse, SHARE distributes monthly meal packages to between 8,000 and 12,000 Marylanders, most in the Baltimore area. About 5 percent of the organization's participants are from Howard County.

The frozen meats, fresh produce, desserts and other food items contained in the nonprofit cooperative's packages offer quality products to participants at a considerable discount. With 10 paid employees, SHARE runs mainly on volunteer support.

"Some volunteers come for fun, some because we need them and lots come because they want to help the community," says Joetta Miller, SHARE's operations manager.

During each monthly distribution cycle, the Linthicum warehouse buzzes with the flurried labor of SHARE's workers. All steps of distribution, from bagging produce to stacking boxes and loading packages into cars, are done by volunteers.

Upon reaching "host sites" located throughout the state, the packages are distributed to participants.

Because it doesn't provide dairy products or bread, SHARE does not attempt to replace grocery stores. Its goal is to strengthen communities and promote community service while offering high-quality food at a low cost.

Each month, seven Howard churches and two apartment complexes are transformed into host sites. Owen Brown Place, which has a large population of senior citizens, is one of the SHARE host sites.

"SHARE keeps us active, keeps the wheels turning, plus the food's great," says Betty Jones, 90, of Owen Brown Place.

Across the room, operating another distribution table, is Jones' 62-year-old son, Glen. He counts poundcakes as he discusses next month's steak package. "It's nice to have something to do with my mother," he says, smiling.

The fourth Saturday of each month starts early for hundreds of SHARE volunteers. Streaming into the warehouse at 5: 30 a.m., they spend the early hours preparing and delivering huge boxes of food packages to host sites.

"Distribution day has been fun. It feels good to help the community," says Ellicott Mills Middle School eighth-grader Peter Dobbs. Volunteering with his confirmation class at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Peter spent last Saturday doing something he had never done before -- bagging potatoes.

Suburban mothers and church groups pack produce alongside inner-city teen-agers -- a sign of the SHARE community's diversity. "You meet lots of different people, lots of nice people. I have even met people from my own church that I had never spoken to before," says Gloria Higdon of Linthicum, a SHARE volunteer for seven years.

When asked why she participates, Columbia resident Theresa Mosley responds with a smile. "The name of the game is helping," she says.

For more information or to become involved with SHARE, call 410-636-9615 or 800-4SHARE5 (474-2735).

Pub Date: 5/24/99

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