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Through your United Way contribution you can give to project
SHARE. You can also receive from it.
One of the few bona fide nonprofit organizations set up to provide assistance to everyone, regardless of income qualifications, SHARE distributes monthly grocery baskets of top quality food at half the normal retail cost. All you have to do is volunteer to participate.
"SHARE stands for Self Help and Resource Exchange," explains Mike Duggan, who has been the Baltimore city representative of the organization for the past two years. "Our primary purpose is to promote volunteerism in the community. The idea is to get everyone involved, everybody from the rich to the poor."
Originally started by a church pastor 14 years ago in San Diego, SHARE came to central Maryland five years ago. SHARE participants who volunteer in the community can turn their good deeds into good discounts. For every two hours of certified community service they are eligible to purchase a pre-selected assortment of groceries worth at least $28 to $35 for $14 in cash, money orders, Independence Card credit or food stamps.
Thousands of central Marylanders from all backgrounds now participate in the program. Duggan estimates the SHARE central warehouse in Linthicum processes about 11,000 orders a month, which in turn are distributed through a network of close to 300 affiliated volunteer groups.
Delores Somerville, a lab coordinator in the Biology Department, volunteers with one of the affiliate groups based at her church, Good Shepherd Baptist, in the Pimlico area of the city. "Some of our participants are elderly, some are young people with children, there is quite a mix," she said. All must volunteer in their community and produce a signed receipt certifying two hours of volunteer work for each $14 basket of groceries purchased.
"It's a great program," Somerville said. She has been volunteering with the organization through her church for three years now. In addition to servicing church members, her group helps distribute the food packages to elderly individuals living in the Green Hill senior apartments nearby. Many of them count on the monthly packages to help stretch their limited food dollars.
Although the SHARE program demands certified community service, it is generous in defining what that service can be. In addition to regular volunteer work with the more typical nonprofits, it also accepts such activities as helping in a classroom or teaching a Sunday School class or cooking an incapacitated neighbor's meals.
"Some of our participants use their volunteer hours to buy the food and donate it to others who are in need," Somerville said. "All the food is always fresh and top quality."
SHARE never receives or distributes donated or government surplus food. It does not compete with food pantries or other programs that rely on donations. "There are 26 SHAREs across the country which collect prepaid orders each month and turn them into World SHARE in San Diego," explained Duggan. "The headquarters acts as a central purchasing department, buying and distributing food in volume, in the same way and from some of the same sources that stores like Safeway or Giant purchase."
Volume buying and a distribution system that relies heavily on volunteers like Delores Somerville to sort, bag and distribute the food enables SHARE to encourage volunteerism with monthly grocery packages that are half the cost of similar products purchased at a grocery store. Although the selection of food items varies each month, it always contains a mix of fresh and frozen meats and vegetables and a selection of dry goods.
Duggan said the monthly packages--which are sorted and bagged in recycled grocery bags by the volunteer groups--usually weigh about 20 lbs. In a recent month, for instance, the SHARE package contained chicken breasts, sausage, deli meats, potatoes, salad mix, cauliflower, carrots and dry goods such as noodles and rice. Participants are not limited in the number of monthly packages they can buy, but must volunteer two hours for each package purchased.
Additional costs, such as the expense of operating the central Maryland distribution warehouse in Linthicum, are met by fund-raising efforts like the United Way. "Our facility is huge and it takes a lot of electricity to run the refrigerators, freezers and other equipment," Duggan said. "The support of the United Way enables us to operate SHARE without adding a lot of additional overhead cost to each basket of groceries."
"Our church took this project on as part of its mission work," Somerville said of her years with SHARE. One early Saturday morning each month she and Green Hill Apartments coordinator Ethel Lee join other affiliate group volunteers at the Linthicum warehouse, picking up the monthly food allotment which they then sort and bag at the apartments. "It encourages people to volunteer. It helps some people without much money to eat right. It really does help the community. I think SHARE is wonderful. I don't even mind getting up at 6:30 on a Saturday morning to do it."
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