Food-buying club shutters operationsThe SHARE Wisconsin program is closing. The volunteer-run food-buying club will take orders for May, then shut down operations at its 189 sites throughout Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Illinois and northeastern Minnesota.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
The SHARE Wisconsin program is closing. The volunteer-run food-buying club will take orders for May, then shut down operations at its 189 sites throughout Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, northern Illinois and northeastern Minnesota.
Locally, the move will affect about 274 households that picked up monthly orders totaling an average of $15,755 at 12 locations throughout the area, including the main hub in Superior.
Lake Superior Region SHARE Director Karen Arthur said the loss of the program will have an impact.
“People won’t go hungry because SHARE is not here,” she said, but “People will have less quality in their diets.”
The club specialized in meat and fresh produce, offering customizable options for buyers. Shopping through SHARE gave customers the dollar power of buying in bulk. There were no income guidelines for participants to meet; anyone was eligible.
Surveys over the last two years showed that everybody was taking part in SHARE – from families on food stamps to people earning $80,000 a year. One-third of the people who shopped with the program used the money saved on food for necessities like utility bills.
“It was a matter of survival,” Arthur said.
Another third of the customers were stretching their food dollars to give them wiggle room for other items. And a third of the shoppers were very well off, but saw no sense in paying more for the same product.
When Arthur began working with the program in 2003, Lake Superior Region SHARE filled an average of 15 orders per month, totaling about $650 in sales from Superior’s Peter Rich Center. Sales increased by about 50 percent each year until 2009 when an article on SHARE was featured in the Duluth News Tribune.
“We grew 700 percent in two weeks,” Arthur said. “It was astronomical.”
Satellite locations sprang up in Iron River, Solon Springs and Duluth, with volunteers stepping forward to run them.
“People came out of the woodwork, asking ‘How can I help?’ in between calls for order forms,” Arthur said. “There was no time to recruit.” They found her, instead.
As she gets ready to wrap up the program, it’s those volunteers she will miss most.
“The amazing thing is that people from all walks of life, demographics, ages, showed up once a month and became friends,” Arthur said. It was a wonderful, eclectic mix of people who genuinely cared about each other.
“It was really kind of magical,” she said.
While the program was aimed at providing food, Arthur found that took a distant second to its ability to connect people and build a community.
Her sentiments are being echoed throughout the organization.
“I’m hearing over and over, ‘I’ll miss the people,’” said Rosie Loser, director of leadership for SHARE, which is based in Butler, Wis.
“As important as the food itself, SHARE volunteers provided a friendly voice, made home deliveries for shut-ins and regularly gave up their own food if they met someone in need,” Paulette Flynn, SHARE executive director, wrote in a media release.
The rise of superstores and discount grocers took a toll for the 27-year-old program.
“SHARE simply can’t compete with the buying power and convenience of giant retailers like Wal-Mart,” Flynn said.
Arthur said she noticed locally that about the same number of customers placed orders each month, but they were spending less.
With her part-time position as director coming to a close, Arthur has found another volunteer opportunity that may rival SHARE. She is working with a group to develop a local time bank — Twin Ports Time Traders.
“Time is everybody’s precious resource,” Arthur said. Time banks develop a network of people with different skills who in a sense barter an hour of their talents for an hour of someone else’s.
“It’s a marketplace of people helping each other,” Arthur said.
One person could donate an hour to walk a dog and in exchange get an hour of credit they could use to get another volunteer’s help sewing a zipper, planting a garden or fixing a bike.
“It’s very, very similar to what happened in SHARE,” Arthur said, a way for volunteers to reach out and make things happen that doesn’t cost any money.
Twin Ports Time Traders will be unveiled for the public during the Community Volunteer Fair 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Miller Hill Mall. More information on the time bank concept can be found at www.timebanks.org.
The final SHARE orders are being taken now through May 1. The distribution date is May 19. For information or to order online, visit www.sharewi.org or call Arthur at (218) 393-2226.