As consumers pay higher prices at the gas station and grocery store, Mark Williams wants to “SHARE” information on a money-saving food option.
He’s the volunteer coordinator of the Fredericksburg region’s host site for the SHARE Food Network. Administered by the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington, SHARE is operated locally through St. Jude Catholic Church, off Lee Hill Elementary Drive in Spotsylvania County.
Donations from individuals and businesses pay for monthly food boxes for families in need—and about half the 40-plus packages that came to St. Jude in June went to those who “are all trying to stretch their dollars,” Williams said.
However, anyone, regardless of address, income or employment status, can purchase the monthly groceries at what Catholic Charities says is about half the retail price, according to its website.
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For instance, July’s value package costs $26 and includes 5 pounds of chicken drumsticks, a pound of ground beef, 12 ounces of bacon and 8–10 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables. People must place orders by July 11, make payments by July 19 and pick up their packages on July 23 at the church. The program accepts checks, credit and debit cards, EBT/SNAP benefits, cash and money orders.
The network also offers more expensive items, such as boxes of chicken breasts, fish or steak, frozen and wrapped individually.
Several churches in the region fall under St. Jude’s ordering umbrella, including St. Matthew Catholic Church at the Spotsylvania Courthouse and Mount Olive Baptist Church in Stafford County. Volunteers from those churches, as well as others like Williams, who belong to the Catholic charity, Knights of Columbus Council 13500, gather one Saturday a month at the distribution site behind Spotsylvania Fire Station 4, in the Four Mile Fork area near U.S. 1 and Fredericksburg Academy.
Volunteers help unload pallets of potatoes and boxes of baby broccoli and separate the amounts based on how much each church is getting. Representatives from two churches in Woodbridge and one from Amissville in Rappahannock County also pick up their food in Spotsylvania.
Then, those associated with St. Jude, which moved into a new building four years ago, work in the church kitchen to separate and bag the items for eventual pickup by participants.
There’s power in numbers, through the network’s high-volume purchasing and the thousands of volunteer hours, “which strengthens the community for all,” according to Catholic Charities.
The SHARE network has provided the monthly food boxes for more than 30 years, during both good economic times and bad. But there’s no doubt that current conditions are “perilous,” said Ninochika Twitty, a program coordinator with SHARE’s central office in Landover, Maryland.
“To many, this may be overwhelming, but we can do our part in our corner of the world,” she stated in the monthly newsletter. “We can offer savings on food which will lighten the burden for someone in your community, your home or your church family.”
While Williams asked repeatedly that the story not be about him, but about those it helps, he obviously plays a key role. He spent 30 years in the Marine Corps and another eight working as a civilian at Marine Corps Base Quantico and was involved in the Knights of Columbus charity for much of that time.
“I grew up in the Boy Scouts so I’ve been volunteering my whole life,” Williams said, adding he likes the SHARE program and “seeing how it helps families in the community.”
He met his wife, Sylvia, who also served in the Marines, while both were stationed in San Diego, and she’s the volunteer coordinator of the Spotsylvania SHARE site. She passes information from the central office to the local operation.
She also speaks Spanish, which is crucial given the number of Latino families who get vouchers for free food packages. Mark Williams also drives a school bus for Spotsylvania County and sees for himself the children who are in need. He works with Spotsylvania County’s Department of Social Services and social workers at three schools in St. Jude’s Parish—Cedar Forest Elementary, Lee Hill Elementary and Thornburg Middle. He also encourages fellow bus drivers to share information about the program with those in need.
“They’ve got a great program and Mark honestly does basically everything,” said Alex Smith, a school social worker at Cedar Forest. “Really, all I do is give him a list of names each month.”
And there are always plenty of names to put on the list, he said.
“To be honest, it always feels like there’s a high need,” Smith said. “There’s never been a lull, there’s never a point when there aren’t any needs.”
More information about the program, including distribution sites throughout Washington, Maryland and Virginia, is available online at catholiccharitiesdc.org/share. St. Jude Catholic Church, the host site for the Fredericksburg region, is at 9600 Caritas St. in Spotsylvania.
For more information about purchasing packages or making donations, contact Mark Williams at 540/834-7710. Spanish speakers can contact Sylvia Williams at 540/834-7940.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425