St. Jude shares food web in ‘perilous’ times | Local News

As consumers pay higher prices at the gas station and grocery store, Mark Williams wants to “SHARE” information about a budget food option.

He is the Fredericksburg Area Host Site Volunteer Coordinator for the SHARE Food Network. Administered by the Archdiocese of Catholic Charities of Washington, SHARE is locally operated by 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 of the more than 40 packages that arrived in St. Jude in June went to those “all trying to stretch their money,” Williams said.

However, anyone, regardless of address, income or employment status, can buy the monthly groceries at what Catholic Charities says is about half the retail price, according to its website.

For example, the July 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 fruits and vegetables. People must place orders by July 11, make payments by July 19, and pick up their packages July 23 at the church. The program accepts checks, credit and debit cards, EBT/SNAP benefits, cash and money orders.

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The network also offers more expensive items, such as boxes of chicken breasts, fish or steak, frozen and individually wrapped.

Several area churches fall under the St. Jude umbrella, including St. Matthew’s Catholic Church at the Spotsylvania Courthouse and Mount Olive Baptist Church in Stafford County. Volunteers from these churches, along with others like Williams, who belong to the Catholic charity Knights of Columbus Council 13500, meet one Saturday a month at the distribution site behind Spotsylvania Fire Station 4 in the area of Four Mile Fork near US 1 and Fredericksburg Academy.

Volunteers help unload pallets of potatoes and boxes of baby broccoli and separate the quantities according to the amount each church receives. Representatives from two churches in Woodbridge and one from Amissville in Rappahannock County also come to seek food at Spotsylvania.

Then, people associated with St. Jude, which moved to a new building four years ago, work in the church kitchen to separate and pack items for eventual pick-up by attendees.

There is power in numbers, thanks to the network’s high volume of purchases and thousands of volunteer hours, “which builds community for all,” according to Catholic Charities.

The SHARE Network has been providing monthly food boxes for over 30 years, through good and bad economic times. But there’s no question that current conditions are “perilous,” said Ninochika Twitty, program coordinator at SHARE’s central office in Landover, Maryland.

“For many this can be overwhelming, but we can do our part in our corner of the world,” she told the monthly newsletter. “We can offer savings on food that will lighten the burden for someone in your community, household, or church family.”

While Williams has repeatedly requested that the story not be about him, but about those she 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 with the Knights of Columbus charity for much of that time.

“I grew up in the Boy Scouts, so I’ve been a volunteer all my life,” Williams said, adding that he loves the SHARE program and “seeing how it helps families in the community.”

He met his wife, Sylvia, who also served in the Marines while the two were stationed in San Diego, and she is the volunteer coordinator of the Spotsylvania SHARE site. It transmits information from the central office to the local operation.

She also speaks Spanish, which is crucial given the number of Latino families who receive vouchers for free food parcels. Mark Williams also drives a school bus for Spotsylvania County and sees kids who are in need firsthand. He works with the Spotsylvania County Department of Social Services and social workers at three schools in St. Jude Parish: Cedar Forest Elementary, Lee Hill Elementary and Thornburg Middle. He also encourages other bus drivers to share information about the program with those in need.

“They have a great program and Mark honestly does pretty much everything,” said Alex Smith, a school social worker at Cedar Forest. “Really, all I do is give him a list of names every month.”

And there are always plenty of names to put on the list, he said.

“To be honest, it still feels like there’s a great need,” Smith said. “There has never been a lull, there is never a time when there are no needs.”

More information about the program, including distribution sites in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, is available online at catholiccharitiesdc.org/share. St. Jude’s Catholic Church, the host site for the Fredericksburg area, is located at 9600 Caritas St. in Spotsylvania.

For more information on 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

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