Group exploring how to help South County

April 16, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

SHARPSBURG--A new group has formed to try to get South County's less fortunate people what they need.

During a two-hour meeting Thursday at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg, members talked about filling the gaps in existing social service networks.

For example, there are food banks and medical assistance, but can people get to those places without public transportation?

The idea came to Gene and Jane Walkley after they attended a "Just Neighbors" class at Holy Trinity.

The program was an introduction to the plight of the needy and to inspire people to help. Gene Walkley said he and his wife didn't complete the class, which was to last several weeks. They already were inspired after a few sessions.

The couple didn't know what to expect when they called a meeting of area churches to examine life for South County's needy.


Gene Walkley said he was hoping at least a handful of people would show up. Eighteen did, representing churches from Hagerstown, Sharpsburg, Boonsboro and beyond.

They shared information about assistance programs they knew of and learned about others -- the REACH cold weather shelter, Community Free Clinic, the Holly Place group home for senior citizens and South County Food Bank.

Vince Fertitta described the Angel Food assistance program offered locally at Concordia Lutheran Church in Hagerstown. People can order and pick up groceries at a discount.

"God has blessed us," Fertitta said. "Eleven months ago, our first order was 56. Now, we're at 500."

The Rev. Steven McCarty said if a similar program started in South County, the Washington County Agricultural Education Center might make a good dropoff and pickup spot for groceries.

People at Thursday's meeting shared stories about the homeless people they know of in the area. One family lives in a car. Others camp along the C&O Canal National Historical Park or in Washington County parks.

The challenge is not just finding out who needs help, but getting them to accept it.

"There's a certain amount of pride that goes on," said McCarty, a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy assigned to Williamsport High School as a resource officer.

Fertitta suggested working with the police, who likely will know the whereabouts of the homeless, to set up a place to leave food each day.

McCarty said police officers in parts of the county sometimes are unsure how to find shelter for someone in a tight spot. He suggested setting up a phone number officers could call to get a list of possible places.

The Rev. Delancey Catlett said mental-health help is one of the topics that needs to be explored more for South County. Transportation is another, McCarty said.

Gene Walkley asked the group to think of other unmet needs when it meets again May 21.

If you go

What: Next meeting to discuss resources for the needy in South County

When: Thursday, May 21, 7 p.m.

Where: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 201 E. Main St., Sharpsburg

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