Monday, November 21, 2011

At SHARE, it's not about the food - it's about the people.

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Kate, a volunteer at SHARE, helped count out frozen goods.
At this point of the week, you’re probably thinking about one thing: turkey. But let’s be honest. Sure, great food is essential at a Thanksgiving dinner – but more important than that are the people with whom you’re sharing the big meal. 

The same holds true at our SHARE Food Network. The massive quantity of food they distributed last weekend is certainly impressive – some 11,000 turkeys to over 600 host sites in DC, Maryland and Virginia. But what’s driving these massive distributions is not those turkeys: it’s the thousands of volunteers who care enough to get involved.

Dorothy is an active volunteer with SHARE!
I got a glimpse of this amazing community in action last Friday, the first day of SHARE’s massive Thanksgiving distribution. It was hard not to ogle at the food, boxes of which seemed to form an edible mountain range along the walls of SHARE’s enormous warehouse. Volunteers then transferred the food from these bulk bins to a long countertop, where they could distribute the items – whether fresh sweet potatoes or frozen sausages – to the steady crowd of people who arrived to pick up food packages.

SHARE is not a food bank. It's a social enterprise program, meaning it looks to sustain itself while doing good. It has, you know, a business model. 

Each month, the program distributes more than 10,000 food packages filled with fresh, high-quality foods. These packages are valued at $45, but by ordering in bulk from the same suppliers to supermarkets, SHARE is able to charge only $20, plus two hours of volunteer service. Much of the work in moving and packaging the food is done by volunteers.  

 Anyone looking for an affordable food option is welcome at SHARE. Unfortunately, the present economic climate has prevented many families from being able to afford even $20 for the food packages. “It’s been a challenge this year,” said Chris Byrd, Grants and Partnerships Coordinator of SHARE. SHARE gets a lot of help from grants and partnerships, but Chris stressed the importance of good old neighborly generosity: “We need the people who can afford the food packages to help support the people who can’t.” (Sounds a lot like Luke 12:48 – “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”)
The SHARE warehouse is located in Hyattsville, MD.

It’s this type of generosity that brought a group out from Grace Baptist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. They were picking up SHARE packages for 40 families at their parish – all of them paid for through donations from parishioners. “We’re glad to help look out for those who are less fortunate,” they said while waiting to receive their flock of frozen turkeys.

Wanda, another volunteer, had arrived on a similar mission from Edgewood Community Services to pick up 16 SHARE packages. While she allocated onions and carrots into each bag, she explained that many residents at Edgewood would be alone for the holidays. “Giving them the food package is a way of showing them that someone is looking out for them,” she said, adding that several single-unit apartments will share some of the SHARE packages, and others will be used for Edgewood’s Thanksgiving community dinner.
Wanda has been coming to SHARE since the 80s!

Lynn worked double-duty this month, volunteering at the SHARE warehouse itself in addition to serving as host site coordinator at Allen Chapel AME in Silver Spring. “I knew there was a need, so I came to help,” she said simply.  

Watching all the host site coordinators wait for SHARE volunteers to deposit turkeys into their carts, it struck me that though November and December bring the largest numbers of people to SHARE, the need for affordable food still exists long after the wishbone has been split.

“Our program is here year-round,” Chris said. “The need never goes away.”  SHARE needs a community of support to stay up and running, and there's plenty you can do to help! Chris said what they need most at SHARE are:

1. Participants! As Chris put it, “It’s open to everyone. Even Bill Clinton. Even Bill Gates." 
2. Volunteers! Help pack and distribute the food at the warehouse - it's all about building community.
3. Ambassadors! Tell others about SHARE and encourage them to get involved. You might even coordinate a host site.
4. Donors! Help your neighbors - sponsor a SHARE package for a family in need. It's simple stewardship, yet it serves as a powerful reminder to people who are struggling that someone is there to help and that they are not alone, whether it's for Thanksgiving Day or any given Thursday.

Read on!
Can you get by on $4 for food per day?
Field trip to the grocery store
A seat at the dinner table