HYATTSVILLE — In one corner of this cavernous warehouse, Phillip Whitlock shares a laugh with today’s volunteers before getting down to business.
Sharing is one thing the 68-year-old retiree does very well.
Whitlock has volunteered with SHARE DC, a food distribution clearinghouse, for 12 years and he still finds enjoyment and satisfaction in the sometimes grueling, but always gratifying work.
“They can call on me anytime and I’m here if they need any extra help,” said the humble Whitlock. “I get a lot of joy from volunteering. Maybe it’s one of the things that God bestowed on me.”
Since Sept. 11, Whitlock said the number of volunteers has grown considerably, and he hopes the trend will be long-lasting. The terrorist attacks that day haven’t made Whitlock more active, but the Landover resident said he has seen the community come together in an unprecedented way since.
“They have shown a lot of love for each other and the United States and for people around the world,” he said.
Described as the “consummate volunteer” by staff members, Whitlock discovered SHARE through his Washington church, Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian. A deeply religious man, Whitlock credits God with his good works.
“Without God, I don’t think too many people would make it in this world.”
Whitlock retired from the Defense Nuclear Agency, now known as the Defense Special Weapons Agency, in 1993 and said he became hooked on SHARE when he first volunteered, a trend he sees in many newcomers.
“You have to visit, and once you do, you’ll come back,” he said. “People are willing to come and share their love and volunteer and work for others. It’s not taking something from you, it’s giving you something. You help to build community.”
Volunteer involvement is especially important during the holiday season, when demand for food is high. Demand is even higher than usual this year, since the terrorist attacks led to a rise in unemployment, which creates a higher demand from SHARE for its services.
“We are helping people that need to know they are loved,” said Whitlock.
Having volunteered since the organization’s inception, staff members treat Whitlock as a leader and a role model.
“When they made up the word volunteer, the definition was developed because of the type of work Phillip does,” said Scott Lewis, SHARE’s executive director. “He embodies to me what the spirit of community should be. That is a rare quality. He gives of himself without the need for something in return.”
Whitlock, who worked at the Armed Forces Radio Biology Institute in Bethesda and Bolling Air Force Base, said the people he works with keep him coming back.
“As a volunteer, I can quit anytime I want,” he said. “After 12 years of coming to volunteer with no pay, there must be something out here to draw me, and that’s the people.”
“It would be very easy after retirement just to go out on the golf course and have a good time,” said Lewis. “This is not always fun work and takes up your time.”
SHARE depends on volunteers from local schools and religious groups, especially during the busy holiday season, when Whitlock is called upon as a role model.
“He wants to use the gifts that God gave him and the talent he has to benefit others and he does that very selflessly,” said Lewis. “His efforts make a great impact on many people.”
Whitlock received the T.C. Bell Award last year, an honor bestowed upon the most valuable volunteer. The award is presented and voted on by fellow SHARE volunteers.
“That means a lot that they recognize me as one of their peers,” he said. “It’s a recognition of what you have achieved in the SHARE program. Anytime you get a certificate, it means that somebody has noticed you. You don’t know who voted for you, but you get kind of choked up.”
Although the award was meaningful, Whitlock insists that his reward is “somewhere to go and being appreciated and helping other people.”
The last of Whitlock’s four brothers died earlier this year, which has brought his family closer together.
“I always stress family,” he said. “You have to have love and love comes from God.”
In his free time, Whitlock is a big sports fan, which stemmed from his father’s professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues.
Despite his age, Whitlock will continue volunteering “as long as my legs will let me.”