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Cook adds a dash of respect

Two to three years is the average life span for the industrial-sized, 18-quart crock pots Sharyn Maznick uses to cook for the homeless.

At the Salvation Army Glen Burnie Family Service Center, Maznick, 55, a mother of two, cooks with three crock pots at a time as she makes hearty lunches such as pork with sauerkraut or turkey with stuffing.

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Motivated by passion for voluntarism, commitment to those in need and talent in cooking, Maznick gives these meals everything she's got.

"People get to know that there are other people out there who care about them," she said. "You're feeding more than their mouths."

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The Salvation Army center offers lunches twice a week, Wednesdays and Fridays, and Maznick typically does the cooking on the last Friday of the month.

Maznick, who arrived at the kitchen at 8 a.m. on a typical morning to begin loading the food into the cookers, believes the homeless deserve the same respect anyone would want, and she treats them accordingly.

"It's a human connection, not just a plate of food that they're getting," she said.

But even in the plate of food, Maznick offers her best. Beads of sweat emerge on her face as she moves through the warmly pungent kitchen, scooping sauerkraut and mixing mashed potatoes.

"Anything that I serve here has to be what I would want to serve at home," said Maznick, who cooks 60 servings at a time for the meals for the homeless, which usually are attended by about 30 people.

She uses half-and-half in the potatoes instead of a cheaper substitute, because the real thing is what she would use for her family.

"If you can take an extra step, and it's obvious to them that you think about them, I think that makes a difference," Maznick said. She's got her helpers, but no one is receiving dictates. Her grandson, Alex, 3, is her usual side-kick. He brings his little chef's apron and plastic knives when he comes.

Women such as Rose Marie Tauber also help Maznick. Tauber's job each week is to bake or buy dessert. This week it's a full-size sheet cake, covered with chocolate frosting and colorful icing flowers.

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"Rose Marie's my taster," Maznick joked as she pointed to the potato crock pot. "She always says I need more salt."

But taste is one of Maznick's specialties. It all started with a countywide bread-baking award when she was 13 and living in New England.

Maznick says she learned to cook at a young age "out of necessity." Her mother's cooking involved putting food in a pot on the stove, turning it to "high" and waiting for the outcome.

Maznick became the family chef and said her brothers and sisters loved it when she cooked.

So do the people who come to the Salvation Army center, according to Kim Herron, the center's secretary and caseworker.

"She does so many little extra things, so that makes it more special for all of them," Herron said. "It's more like a homemade meal."

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On a typical day, the diners eagerly ate the steaming plates of aromatic cuisine.

"I like this meal. This is good," said Greg Terschuur, 34, a homeless man from Glen Burnie. "I don't really get a chance to go to a restaurant till I get back on my feet, so it's nice."

Other diners seemed comfortable around Maznick, who used to cook for them many times a month, but now does so only once a month because of illness.

Maznick was diagnosed with breast cancer at 49. The cancer is in remission, but she has trouble with lifting because of lymphedema. She had to lower the frequency of her volunteer cooking, but her passion has not waned.

"This is really a joy," she said. "It's almost selfish to volunteer -- you get more back than you could ever put into it. I think God really works through people."

She said she tries to make food people really want to eat.

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The recent grilled cheeses accompanying turkey soup were a surprise hit, she said.

"We couldn't make them fast enough to give out," Herron said.

Said Maznick with a smile: "You watch someone eat three grilled cheeses, and you know they like it."


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