'Share' Food Program
Want to know one of the best kept secrets around? Here it is: the SHARE food program that is implemented in every state and many places around the world. SHARE stands for Self Help And Resource Exchange. It allows my family to get about $35 worth of groceries for $20 plus two hours of volunteer community service. And the service can be absolutely anything you do for someone else for which you are not paid.
The food packages (called Shares) vary each month and in each region of the country. Primarily the SHARE buyers buy from local farmers and producers and buy in bulk. This is not a government subsidized program and there are no monetary guidelines. And in many places food stamps can be used to purchase a Share package. If you eat, you qualify. And each person can purchase as many Shares as they need - as long as they do the two hours of service for each Share.
One really nice addition in the past few years are specialty Share packages: holiday packages (including a 9 pound turkey), grilling packs for the summer, seasonal baking packages (comprised of all the goodies necessary to stock your kitchen for baking) and more. You can purchase these separately or in addition to the regular Share each month.
I often include my small children in my SHARE work hours so that they understand that people work for their food. And since I always have many more hours of service (from church things, school activities, etc) I can donate my hours to someone else if I choose - often they go to an elderly person who is housebound.
I have been involved in SHARE for about three years now in two states and find it a good savings and a rewarding thing to do. Besides all my other community service (and that of my husband as well), I go to my local host site on D-Day (distribution day, once a month) and set up and bag food for each participant. I have met a wonderful crew of people there and really enjoy getting to know the people who regularly purchase Shares and come through the site each month. It takes about three hours of my time one Saturday each month. And I love to go do it.
I would say the only draw back to this program is that you can't be picky about your food. It is always good quality food, but you have no choice in what you get (unless you swap items with others as I sometimes do!). Everyone gets the same things, and it always includes frozen meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some canned goods or staples like pasta or rice. And each month there is usually one or two items I will not use (turnips, acorn squash, kielbasa, etc...). When this happens I ask my neighbors and church friends if anyone will use what I won't and then I give it away. So this way I help others as well. And often my host site orders an extra Share each month just to be sure we have enough. If no one buys it on D-Day or no one else needs it, I then take it as a donation to one of my neighbors who is struggling financially.
I would encourage everyone to check this program out. In many places SHARE is listed in the white pages/business section of the phone book. Many of the social welfare offices have a contact number the local programs as well. In the Milwaukee area alone there are over 25 host sites - one near just about everybody in the city.
Get involved and save money too!
Updated November 2013
I am a "professional parent" (according to what my husband puts on our tax form every year) with two small children. I enjoy the community service and the many opportunities I have for volunteerism. If the adage "if you want something done, ask a busy person to do it" is true, that explains why the only bumper sticker on my car says "If I am a mother-at-home why am I always in my car?"
Food, gas and other prices keep rising while my family's income remains stagnant and I worry we are heading for debt trouble. Tell us: Yes, I think we are heading for debt trouble and could use some help! or No, we're not in debt trouble but I like finding new ways to help keep my family finances on track!