Angel Food Ministries Responds to Lawsuit Claims

The lawsuit filed yesterday in Walton County, Georgia was initiated by two directors who are interested in removing the founders of the Ministry – Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo – only to install themselves in the founders place. This is a power grab plain and simple, and the people of Walton County and those who look to Angel Food Ministries for relief need to understand what and who are actually behind this effort.

The essence of this lawsuit aims to wrest control of this $140 million organization that was the brainchild of Joe and Linda Wingo in the years prior to 1994. AFM, a staple in Walton County for 15 years, went from 34 boxes of food in its first month to the six million served across 39 states in 2008. It employs 300 people full time, and had a payroll exceeding $1 million in 2008. As one of the largest employers in the area, it serves as a vital revenue base for Walton County, Monroe and the State of Georgia.

It has been a model corporate citizen, with 2008’s local charitable contributions nearing $800 thousand for churches and community groups, while also donating $5.2 million back into over 5000 local communities nationwide in ‘08. Over its life, AFM has returned $19 million back into the communities it serves. Additionally, using its own resources, AFM donates food relief shipments to food shelters, soup kitchens, and disaster stricken areas of the country where need is strong.

The inspiration, growth and direction of the organization has been steady under the leadership of its CEO Joseph Wingo and the extraordinary staff who handle every aspect from procurement to final distribution. In these tough economic times, the organization has advanced the goals to serve the public and put more food and money into battling national food insecurity than most other national organizations can claim. All of it is readily accomplished without seeking contributions which are becoming ever more elusive for nonprofit organizations.

Judging by February’s orders alone of 530,000 boxes, which was the fifth largest month for AFM, and 20% larger than January 2009, the need for food relief has skyrocketed. AFM is poised to meet that need in even more communities and to a broader pluralistic audience. Now offering food choices specifically for seniors, and allergen sensitive individuals, AFM is launching a diabetic-safe box, a vegetarian conscious box, and is exploring kosher and Halal choices as well.

These two directors are not the inspiration of AFM, nor are they its heart and soul. They are acting in self interest. The daily challenges of procurement, the painstaking logistics, and the distribution base of over 40,000 good souls who volunteer monthly to ensure people get their food, and the $30 box of groceries will not be well served with these gentlemen at the helm.

Of these two directors, one is likened to a prodigal son, who fell down on his luck and was personally picked back up again by the Wingo family and Angel Food Ministries, only to serve up this frivolous lawsuit. In his worst times the Wingos loaned him a substantial sum of money in order to keep food on the table and the bills paid. The other, the newly appointed COO, has been in the employ of Angel Food Ministries for six weeks, and has only been in the office for about three of those weeks in total.

AFM acknowledges that there is a Grand Jury investigation underway into alleged financial irregularities concerning certain individuals. The board of directors and Joseph Wingo as CEO has addressed these problems and will continue to accurately report the financial status of AFM as required by law. These problems do not merit or authorize the suit that has been filed. In fact the two directors in question are trying to take advantage of the investigation in the hope that in the rush to judgment they can have the windfall benefit of all of the years of labor by the Wingos.

Joe alone can claim more than 54,000 hours of sweat and toil building AFM over the past 15 years. Combined, the Wingo contributions to this ministry are clear.

This is about money, and AFM appears golden to opportunists. The real story here is that a simple family from Monroe, Georgia, built a successful organization that serves a crucial social need and grew it to $140 million last year. It is the ideal model for non-profits to replicate and prosper, to continue working to serve an ever growing public in crisis. People who have not worked as hard at this for as long are looking to take it away.

This lawsuit will be answered in court of law, not the court of public opinion. Meanwhile, Angel Food Ministries will continue providing food for the people. Orders are being taken for March, and we will feed everyone who asks.

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