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Hundreds turn out for a Taste of the Town, and to help REACH

July 31, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - Before she began working with the homeless, volunteer Mary Lou Koontz admits she used to look down on them.

Not anymore.

"I guess I really didn't have much sympathy for the homeless because I thought they were homeless by choice, and I found that wasn't the case," Koontz, of Hagerstown, said before an auction to benefit REACH Caregivers, which provides cold-weather shelter and services to the needy.

Between 600 and 650 people, including volunteers and members of church groups, turned out at the Clarion Inn to sample food from Hagerstown-area restaurants and bid on donated goods during Sunday's Taste of the Town and Benefit Auction, said Terri Baker, executive director of REACH Caregivers.

REACH stands for Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless.

Officials for the organization were hoping to raise more than $30,000 from the event, which last year netted more than $25,000, Baker said. The organization's overall budget is about $239,000, she said.

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As participants filled their dishes with ice cream, ribs, shrimp and pastries, auction hopefuls milled around tables displaying cat goodie baskets, office supplies, NASCAR memorabilia and picnic supplies. All the items were donated, Baker said.

Washington County Technical High School teacher Steve Frame said he put a bid on a CD, but he did not plan to spend much money. The school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes helps at the cold-weather shelter.

"You can talk about issues like homelessness, but until you really get ... Until a kid serves food or helps out at the shelter, that's a real eye-opening experience for them," he said.

Since she began volunteering at the shelter in 1996 with her church, Koontz, 61, said her attitude toward the homeless has changed.

"It's all about God's grace," Koontz said.

Anyone could be homeless, she said.

"Not everybody is born with a silver spoon in their mouth, and I think they need to have more compassion for these people," Koontz said.

Now a member of Christ Community Church, Koontz recounted a conversation she once had with a shelter guest too drunk to walk. She told him she was disappointed because she had prayed he would stop drinking.

"He said, 'Why do you come in here and put up with us?' I said, 'Because we love you,'" Koontz recalled.

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