Wednesday, January 6, 2010
By LISA ROMERO
Imagine being able to buy $60 to $70 worth of groceries — choice meats, fresh fruits and crisp veggies, not expired or junk foods — for $30 or less.
Sound too good to be true? A little slice of heaven in a tough economy?
Then perhaps you haven’t yet heard of Angel Food Ministries, a largely faith-based, volunteer operation that believes good food and spiritual sustenance should never be in short supply.
Founded in 1994 by Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo of Monroe, Ga., to assist a handful of families there, the nondenominational program now feeds more than 500,000 families a month in nearly 45 states — and interest is definitely on the rise not only locally but nationwide as well, said Juda Engelmayer, Angel Food’s director of communications and customer service.
“There’s a strong need for what we’re offering,” he explained.
And that, in a nutshell, is high-quality, low-cost food carefully packaged for two types of consumers: financially strapped people who, without the program, would be forced to choose between food and other life expenses (such as medicine or housing), and time-crunched families who want prepackaged meal ingredients at a price that stretches their budgets even further.
Angel Food Ministries operates simply:
“If you eat, you qualify,” said Engelmayer. There are no applications or minimum-income requirements.
You can order food through a local church or social-services group, or even online. (See “FYI” box for more information.) You can also pay for your food with a credit card or Electronic Benefits Transfer card (i.e., food stamps).
Each month, a different menu of foods is offered and shipped from Angel Food distribution sites in Atlanta or Fort Worth to this area. Customers can also buy specialty boxes of additional meats and healthy treats.
You can purchase as many boxes (called “units”) of food as you want. Typically, one $30 medium-sized box feeds a family of four for a week, and a senior citizen for up to a month.
Even special dietary needs can be accommodated, such as allergen-free foods that contain no peanuts, soybeans, gluten, etc.
How can they offer food at half the price? Engelmayer says they buy in bulk — and rely on the social consciousness of many vendors, as well as the support of volunteers, to make the program possible.
Angel Food is nothing less than a godsend to many families in the community, say local coordinators.
“It’s not a handout — but it can really help people when they need it most, such as when they lose a job or work has dried up, or their life situation has drastically changed in some way,” said Debbie DiGirolamo, who helps lead the year-old Angel Food program based at the Living Hope Community Church in Dublin, which provides meals to about 25 families a month.
“Some people are not comfortable with the idea of a soup pantry,” DiGirolamo added, noting her church operates just such a program, too. “But when you help them purchase good food at a discounted rate, they’ll participate, even for a month or so — and that gets them through.”
Gail Rowen, co-coordinator of the program at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Montgomeryville, which serves as many as 50 families monthly, agreed.
“Angel Food is a way to help people take their dollars and spread them further so they can eat healthy foods, get their medicines and pay their bills,” she said. “They shouldn’t have to choose between them.”
The benefits aren’t limited to quality and affordability. This food comes with a side of spiritual support, as well.
Every Angel Food box includes a copy of The Servant magazine, prepared by the Wingos to inspire and spiritually guide people through their troubled times.
Although their mission is Christian-based, the magazine — and indeed, the entire program — is intended for everyone in need, regardless of faith or background, Engelmayer said.
“Our host sites include Jewish temples and community centers,” he added. “While we’re building faith through food, it’s more about counseling and ministering to our communities through the organizations that understand them best: the religious and social-service groups.”
Not everyone who participates is a churchgoer, or even necessarily looking for spiritual guidance. And that’s OK, local volunteers say.
“Sometimes, it’s just good for people to know someone cares about them,” DiGirolamo explained. “When we can, we’ll point them to resources in the community that can help improve their lives.”
Added Rowen, “Our goal is to be here for people in need — whatever their need is.”
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