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Volunteers find food at SHARE

March 02, 1999

SHARE programBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




Money can be tight in a one-income family with five children, as it was a few months ago for the Gagnon family when they discovered the SHARE program.

"Over the holidays we got down on our luck a little bit and the program was there and it helped a lot," said Claudine Gagnon, 37, of Sharpsburg.

Through the Self Help And Resource Exchange program, known as SHARE, anyone, regardless of need, can buy food at a bargain price by volunteering in the community, said Kenny Wuertenberg, SHARE's area representative.

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By paying $14 a month in cash or food stamps, and by performing at least two hours of community service during the month, a participant will receive a food package that is worth about $35, SHARE officials said. The cost will rise to $15 in April.

A different menu each month includes fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, canned and frozen foods.

To show her appreciation, Gagnon has joined a group working to form a SHARE program in Sharpsburg.

Dick Hynson, 72, of Keedysville, is spearheading the effort to start a Sharpsburg SHARE site.

Hynson said many people volunteer two hours or more a month and either don't know about the program or don't participate.

In addition to gaining participation from people who already volunteer, Hynson hopes the program will prompt others to perform community service work.

There are 32 host sites in the Tri-State area, including 13 in Washington County, Wuertenberg said. The region belongs to the Baltimore affiliate, which is sponsored by Catholic Charities.

SHARE started in San Diego in 1983 with the distribution of more than 2,000 packages of food. Between 1983 and 1997, more than 40 million people nationwide participated, performing more than 82 million hours of volunteer service worth more than $575 million, according to a SHARE fact sheet.

The Tri-State program began six years ago, Wuertenberg said.

In 1997, participants in the Tri-State area, or West Central Region, bought 21,119 food packages and volunteered for more than 50,000 hours that were worth more than $250,000, according to the fact sheet.

Wuertenberg said most people volunteer more than two hours a month. "Once they get bitten by the volunteer bug, they seem to just really take it on," he said.

Participants can do any kind of community service work as long as they are not paid and it's not for a family member, Wuertenberg said. They must turn in a statement detailing what community service they did and signed by the person they helped.

People do not have to participate every month and can buy more than one package. The packages are distributed on the fourth Saturday of every month at the host sites. The food is bought directly from producers and growers.

One food package provides a family of four with four meals, according to the fact sheet.

While the program is available to all, it can help a lot of families who might fall through the cracks of government assistance, Wuertenberg said.

"There's a great number of people in this country who make too much money to qualify for government programs, but don't make enough to make it through each month," Wuertenberg said.

Many people are too proud to participate in assistance programs, he said.

"By creating a program where people can help themselves, they have removed that stigma," Wuertenberg said.

Doug and Janet Thomas volunteer 32 hours a month at Hagerstown Community College, at their church library and for Habitat for Humanity. They donate their remaining volunteer hours to help out needy families through their church, St. John's Episcopal on South Prospect Street.

Doug Thomas, 72, of Hagerstown, said they usually only buy one package a month, but this time they are ordering two, including one for Easter.

For more information and to find out where the closest SHARE host site is, call Kenny Wuertenberg at 1-800-829-4820.

To join the Sharpsburg host site, call Hynson at 301-432-4239.

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