NEW WINDSOR - Estella "Cookie" Cooper of Westminster groaned at the remembrance of canning 150 pounds of carrots in one day.

And canning an almost equal amount of applesauce didn't exactly thrill her.

"Man, I hated that," she said, shaking her head. "But we did plums that year, too, and they weren't too bad."

It's lunchtime on a Saturday, and Cooper and four others were taking a break from the stark kitchen filled with thick, white fog from the canning equipment.

They were at the New Windsor Service Center's Blue Ridge Building, where they were canning peaches and, yes, more carrots.

But nobody was complaining, because what they were doing was for themselves, a self-sufficiency project "to try to help people help themselves," said Daphne Herling of the Maryland Food Committee.

The MFC is a 20-year-old, statewide hunger advocacy organization, Herling explained, whose focus is ending hunger in Maryland, both in the short-term and the future.

The Carroll County Canning Project is just one way the MFC is working to help people feed themselves, rather than just handing them food.

Started about five years ago, the Canning Project has really gotten off the ground this year with Herling's increased efforts at contacting people to work together to help those with low incomes.

"In Carroll, we're involved with the churches that hold soup kitchens and an informal network of people who are interested in hunger advocacy," said Herling, the Carroll network organizer.

Additionally, the New Windsor Service Center provides the facilities for the project; Joel Jackson, owner of Food Preservation Systems, supplies the canning equipment and training; and Baugher's Orchards sells the group fresh produce at wholesale prices.

Through the soup kitchens and word-of-mouth, a group was put together, most from previous years, to can their own food on Saturdays from the end of July through October.

Jackson trained three of the women as supervisors in the prop er use of the canning equipment in an effort to make the group self-sufficient, although he and Herling usually can be found at New Windsor making sure everything is running smoothly.

"One thing was finding people who would commit themselves to the training and follow through on the long haul," Herling said. "Our ultimate goal is to make the group completely self-sufficient: The MFC paid for their training, but it's an investment in their ability to provide food for themselves."

Herling also hopes to offer training to the group on long-term food planning and storage through a Carroll County Cooperative Ex tension Agency workshop.

"Sometimes they take the food home and eat it the next week," she said.

"They have to learn to plan for the long-term."

Even though the MFC pays for the food through a grant, and the group takes home what they can, it's not considered a free handout.

"The people are working for their food here," Herling stressed. "They work hard at the canning."

On an average, each person will take home 10 to 15 jars of each kind of canned food they do each week, Cooper said.

The week's work actually starts on Wednesday, when Herling travels from Baltimore to meet with the group after checking with Baugher's to see what fruits and vegetables are available.

The group at that time decides what to can on Saturday and discusses any problems members are having. Only two women have their own transportation, so that must be worked out. Herling has some transportation help from church people, she said.

Saturdays start at 8 a.m., when the group arrives at New Windsor. The food must be prepared, cooked and canned. If everything goes smoothly, the women may be done by midafternoon.

"Last week (Aug. 4) we were here till 6 (p.m.) because one of the boilers didn't work, and we got delayed two hours," said a supervisor, Cindy Miller, of Finksburg.

On this particular Saturday, Miller is the supervisor. She carefully charts the time the peaches started cooking, their temperature, and when the fruit should be finished. She then checks the cookers themselves to make sure the temperature is accurate.

She has been trained by Jackson not to take shortcuts, but to be certain the food is cooked properly to kill bacteria that can result from improper preparation.

"I'm a stickler for details," Jackson said. "With this group you need someone who knows the principles of microbiology and technology, because if you take a shortcut, you could kill someone."

Of course, while the women work they also enjoy a social camaraderie: They're friends and helpmates, as well as individuals fending for themselves.

Cooper, who supports a 16-year-old son, said the program "gives me food and keeps me from going to Food Sunday," an organization that distributes free food to the hungry. Cooper receives Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps, but is only eligible for that until her son turns 18.

She is one of Jackson's trainees, and in preparation for becoming self-sufficient, has taken Job Training Partnership classes.

Cooper's mother, Margaret Hughes, 67, of Westminster, also comes Saturdays for the same reason her daughter does. The program also gives her a chance to socialize, since she lives alone.

For Leslie McDaniel, the canning project is a help in feeding her family. She and her husband, Jerry, moved to Westminster after a fire last Mother's day destroyed the family's Taneytown apartment, killed 3-year-old Jerry and critically injured 9-year-old Jennie, who still is hospitalized.

Although both work, their jobs don't pay enough for all the necessities.

The couple also has a third child to care for, Regina, 6.

"Last year we lived off of Food Sunday for eight months," McDaniel said.

"This cuts our grocery bill and we don't have to go to Food Sunday as often. And I enjoy it; we have fun doing it."

For information on the Maryland Food Committee's Canning Project, call Daphne Herling at (301) 366-0600.

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