Fourteen thousand families in Central Maryland are saving roughly $170,000 every month on food bills; our communities are getting the benefits of 20,000 hours of community service they never had before; individuals who had been isolated and indifferent say they are now bound together in camaraderie and common cause. SHARE is making it happen.
The program, at its simplest, provides an opportunity for participants to buy $30 worth of top-quality food in return for $13 plus two hours of community service. At a deeper level, SHARE (Self Help and Resource Exchange) is a creative arrangement for these same participants to meet new friends and become more involved in the helping experience.
The program takes advantage of economies of scale, and delivers the benefits to participants. Because SHARE, USA, is a national organization (under locally sponsored auspices of the Associated Catholic Charities and the Knights of Malta) it can buy in 27 cities in bulk and at discount. The national office provides direct-from-supplier centralized food purchasing, accounting services and promotional assistance.
The Abell Foundation provided start-up funding of$20,000, and an other $40,000 towards the costs of a refrigeration unit.
Additional savings are realized because bagging is done by volunteers. (Time spent bagging is used by some participants to satisfy their two hours of community service requirement.)
Food for Maryland is trucked to a warehouse in Linthicum. Here, volunteers bag one week a month. On another weekend, volunteers pick up the food and distribute it–to their church, school, non-profit agency.
But SHARE is only in part about dollars and quality food. Participants are drawn to it, too, because it provides an opportunity to share in the experience of helping–friends, disadvantaged children, the sick and the aged. SHARE’s goal, according to Peggy Cronyn, director, SHARE Baltimore, is two fold, “First, to distribute nutritious food at low cost, and second, to encourage community development.”
“I give my time but I find here that people are giving me their friendship.”
By 8:30 a.m. on a Monday morning in mid-September about half-a-dozen men and women are gathered in the Linthicum ware house–most in their 70’s. They are standing at tables, weighing and bagging onions.
Lucien Hurt and Virginia Meyers have come in from Pasadena from the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Ms. Hurt says, “I give my time but I find here that people are giving me their friendship.”
Margaret Paya and Ellen Martin cannot stand and work so they sit and work. They are turning strips of Nylon netting into bags that hold the onions. “They have to have bags,” Ms. Martin says, “and we have to have food. We save money, we meet new people. It all works.”
Clearly, SHARE–Self Help and Resource Exchange–is changing the way people shop for food, get their ideas, and choose their friends. It is a journey that starts with economics, leads its participants through improved quality of food at their dinner tables, and ends with fulfillment: for food and savings, for one of the oldest of human experiences–caring.
Elizabeth Merson and Rose Cannon are in their late 70’s. They have come in from St. Bernadette’s Parish in Anne Arundel County. They talk about why they are here. Ms. Cannon says, “I get to eat good food at savings I never had before, and I meet people I never met before.”
SHARE could not be described better.