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PULASKI — After a steady decline in program participation and an increase in program costs during the past 10 years, New River Community Action's S.H.A.R.E. held its final food distribution on Saturday.
Action was taken Sept. 16 by the NRCA board to end the long-running project that, to many, was a staple of communities in Southwest Virginia, including Galax, Carroll and Grayson.
The local S.H.A.R.E. program — which stands for Self Help And Resource Exchange — was established in 1984 and modeled after the first S.H.A.R.E project developed in San Diego, Calif.
At the time, NRCA's program was the second of its kind in the world.
S.H.A.R.E. provided participants with a package of food valued at about $44 for half the price, plus two hours of community service.
Food was distributed out of a Pulaski warehouse and through between 80 and 100 volunteer host sites — primarily faith-based organizations — throughout the S.H.A.R.E. service area, which stretched throughout Southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee and southern West Virginia.
NRCA staff estimates almost 2 million food packages were distributed during the course of the program and about 4 million volunteer hours were provided to local communities, according to a news release.
According to NRCA executive director Terry Smusz, the program started its decline in 1999.
Participation hit an all-time low in fiscal year 2009-10 with just 44,000 packages distributed. Ten years prior, the program distributed 110,000.
Smusz pointed to competition from other discount food stores as a major cause in the participation slip.
New River Community Action lost close to $50,000 with the program for the fiscal year ended June 30, as revenues fell from $1.1 million to less than $860,000.
Smusz said throughout the past several years, the NRCA has pulled money from other areas of its budget to "just pay for the program's bills," she said.
The program did see a slight jump in 2008, Smusz said, but not enough to balance its budget.
Smusz said package prices were raised in August from $20 to $22 to try to help balance the program's budget, and the NRCA board looked at reducing the program to "bare bones" by reducing staff.
"But I feel like it was as 'bare bones' as it can get," Smusz said.
One full-time job and seven part-time jobs will be cut as a result of the project's termination.