The Wisconsin branch of the organization SHARE (Self Help And Resource Exchange), one of the national pioneer organizations to supply discounted food, has announced after 27 years of service that it will be closing next month.
SHARE is a non-profit food buying club run by mostly volunteers. Members sign up to purchase food a minimum of $15 worth of food. In the early years of the program, they also committed to at least two hours of service, where they assisted in packaging, distributing or taking orders.
Members save 30-50 percent off average grocery store prices. According to order forms listed on the Wisconsin Share website, www.sharewi.org, 20 piece boneless chicken breast fillets cost $12.75, angel hair pasta is available for $1, organic produce assortment with at least five kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables weighing more than 10 pounds cost $15. Each month various items are offered at discounted prices.
Orders for May can be placed online at www.sharewi.org. This is the last chance to purchase food from SHARE, although SHARE’s Mobile Market, which serves metro Milwaukee, will continue at least through June. For Mobile Market sites visit
Paulette Flynn, executive director of the Wisconsin branch of SHARE for the last 16 years, has fond memories of her time with SHARE.
“There was a bunch of us in San Diego that had been working on food issues and our country was really in a deep recession at the time and there just wasn’t anything available except emergency food or regular grocery store prices,” Flynn said, adding she was a founding member of the San Diego organization, started in 1983 by Deacon Carl Shelton who was associated with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
What she didn’t anticipate was the response outside of San Diego.
“When we first started we didn’t have a vision of this spreading, but when there’s something that’s right for the times it spreads itself and that’s what happened,” Flynn said.
After observing how it worked in San Diego and Chicago, Deacon Donald Borkowski became the founding executive director of SHARE in Wisconsin in 1985.
“It was exciting, to say the least,” Deacon Borkowski, a Marquette University graduate (class of 1955) with a degree in business administration, said of those early days.
“I set a goal of 1,000 participants and we started with 2,000,” Deacon Borkowski said. He also had a goal of 15 host sites, but started with more than 20 sites.
At its peak, 26 branches were active around the country. Now, only the branches in Iowa, Washington D.C. – which Deacon Borkowski helped start – and Philadelphia remain.
When the Wisconsin branch of SHARE was at its height, Flynn said 40,000 families received food. According to its website, the program currently serves nearly 8,000 families monthly.
Deacon Borkowski served as executive director until 1996 when Flynn took over.
“I marvel at the number of things that were accomplished by the people,” Deacon Borkowski, a member of St. Jude Parish, Wauwatosa, said. “We reached a great number of people. We reached every corner of the state.”
Flynn said that in the beginning the backing of Catholic parishes helped the organization grow.
“It’s really the trust that the community had for the Catholic diocese as well as the individual parishes… they place their trust in that because SHARE was unknown,” Flynn said. “The SHARE host sites are largely church-based so there was a lot of activity right from the very beginning from the Catholic parishes… They felt confident because of the backing of the diocese.”
Along with several parishes, other religious denominations and organizations have served as host sites in their neighborhoods where members could volunteer and pick up their food.
According to Flynn, the biggest reason for the demise of SHARE is the growth of discount grocery stores like Aldi and Wal-Mart. Those stores, she noted, offer food priced comparably to the SHARE prices, without the volunteer requirement.
Despite her office closing, Flynn has no animosity toward those businesses.
“The advance of these low-cost food retailers makes our purpose complete,” Flynn said. “We were there in those times when those retailers weren’t available and now they are. And now so, it’s time to wish the community well and close our doors. We exist to fill a need and what would we say? We want the need to go on so our organization can stay open? That’s silly.”
Flynn credited volunteers with the success of the program.
“When you get to be part of an organization that has that much passion and hard work and commitment in the trenches, you come to work every day and you know you’re going to be with fabulous people who want to make a difference,” Flynn said.
Gloria Rhone, a volunteer since the late 1990s, heard about SHARE through the community outreach program at Providence Baptist Church, Milwaukee.
“It was just good to be able to reach out to the people and help them reach their financial needs and nutritional needs,” Rhone said.
After volunteering for a period of time, Rhone signed up for groceries.
“It just looked so good and it was so reasonable,” Rhone said. “A lot of people feel like it’s commodity food and there’s a stigma attached to that, and so I can honestly say, ‘Oh no, this is really tasty. These are good, fresh products.’”
Rhone, a volunteer for much of her life, said SHARE created a great atmosphere for young people who often brought others to the organization.
She described a 17-year-old girl who has been volunteering at her SHARE site since she was 11. The teen recently recruited a friend who also came to help.
“So here it is 7:30 in the morning and these two teenagers show up to help us prepare and distribute the food,” said Rhone, noting that since SHARE was such a big part of her life, she’s sad to see it end.
“Whatever you have to give to make it work, that’s what people did at SHARE and they didn’t expect anything special in return,” Rhone said. “There’s just a generous spirit and just a spirit of humility there that I …. I’m going to miss that.”