- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

It’s what you always imagined Santa’s workshop to be — only this shop is stocked with food.

In a cold, dimly lighted warehouse in Hyattsville, the hustle and bustle of volunteers with the Share Food Network intermingle with laughter as they bop to music and dish rotini into bags and box them for shipment to one of 350 faith and community groups in the D.C. area.

The pasta will be repackaged, with chicken, fruits and vegetables, and distributed to the less fortunate.

“You never know: Someday you might be them,” said Wanda Mattox, a volunteer.

Share cuts in half the cost of living for participants who pay $16 and donate two hours of their time in exchange for $40 worth of top-quality groceries.

Through Share’s arrangements with secondary market groups and food vendors, such as Perdue Farms, organizers stretch $12 of participants’ $16 to buy what would cost three times more at a regular supermarket. The remaining $4 pays for Share’s operational costs.

“Our goal is to get affordable food in the community and also to do volunteer work [and] to link groups together,” said Scott Lewis, executive director of the Hyattsville-based group, which distributes about 14,000 food packages each month.

Founded in 1990, the group targets low-income single parents and seniors, but anyone who wants to save money on groceries is eligible to participate.

This month’s menu features Perdue split chicken breasts, Nestle ginger cookie dough, grits, ground beef, bacon, rice, potatoes, onions and fruits and vegetables. Meat-lovers’ packages are also available.

For many, the bag of groceries is the only food they will receive this month.

“I get calls from seniors all the time who say if I hadn’t gotten my Share package this month, I wouldn’t have got food because my medication’s so high,” Mr. Lewis said. “Every one of those dollars are worth a lot to them, so we have to make sure we are good stewards of their money and get the best price for them.”

Despite the program’s popularity among seniors, providing food is not enough for many low-income single mothers, said Jingle Rhodes, Share’s office manager.

“Many of today’s mothers don’t cook [either because they] don’t want to or know how,” Miss Rhodes said. “Some work so hard at three jobs they’re not able to.”

So, Share uses fundraiser and grant monies to fund community-based cooking and nutrition classes, health fairs, supermarket tours and other health programs.

The festive atmosphere at the Share headquarters draws volunteers from all walks of life.

Federal judges work beside high school and college students earning school credit, Baptist and Muslim faith groups, television news personalities and those performing court-appointed community service.

Several area military installations also volunteer regularly because the soldiers’ families often require food stamp assistance while they are away, Mr. Lewis said.

“Volunteering” might be as simple as making reminder phone calls to other volunteers, doing projects for school or church or helping a neighbor. Volunteers don’t have to buy a food package, but it is encouraged because it lowers the price of the packages.

“We’re just kind of all together with one purpose,” Mr. Lewis said. “I don’t think there’s another entity that brings so many people together with one goal. It’s the great equalizer in so many ways.”

Quincy Boatwright, an eight-time volunteer with Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northwest, said the program shows him how fortunate he is to have food readily available.

“A lot of countries don’t have all of this [and] a lot of times people forget about the blessings,” said Mr. Boatwright, 60, of Forestville.

SHARE FOOD NETWORK

Founded: 1990

Contact: Scott Lewis, executive director; 5170 Lawrence Place, Hyattsville, MD 20781; 301/864-3115; www.sharedc.org

Employees: Nine full-time, four part-time and more than 3,000 volunteers

Background: The Share Food Network works through faith and community groups across the region to foster community among participants, who pay $16 and donate two hours of time in exchange for $40 worth of top-quality groceries.

The program targets low-income single parents and senior citizens, but anyone is eligible to participate.

Source: Share Food Network

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