Facing Hunger in America

Monday, February 28, 2011

Home of Angel Food Ministries

Good food is expensive. So what can be done to get more affordable, high-quality food to people who are trying to stretch their food budget?

Enter Angel Food Ministries. It creates boxes of wholesome food, offers those boxes for order at costs lower than at retail grocery stores, and delivers them once a month to 5383 host sites (mostly churches) in 45 states. When the food arrives, volunteers group the food into orders for customers to pick up.

Pastors Linda and Joe Wingo

Angel Food Ministries is a 501(c)(3) organization that began in 1994 as the ministry of Emmanuel Praise Church. Both were founded by and are the life work of the Wingo family: CEO and Pastor Joe Wingo, his wife Pastor Linda Wingo, and their son Pastor Wes Wingo. The church is located in the front part of the Angel Food Ministries warehouse. Right now, the two organizations are legally distinct entities, but Pastor Joe sees them as one ministry.

We visited the headquarters in Monroe, GA, interviewed Pastor Joe, and toured the facilities with Bobbi Warburton, Heather Waldo, and chief distribution officer Johnny Willis.

We found it fascinating to get an inside look at how Angel Food Ministries operates. The process begins about 3 months before delivery, when the menus are determined. Each month’s offerings are different. For March, there are 13 separate boxes that a customer can order. They range in price from $21 to $51, and include both general meal boxes and specialty boxes, such as an allergen-free box, an Easter box, and 3 boxes especially for kids. The menu committee considers all the food items to which they have access through their distributors and orders items that are as nutritious and high-quality as they can find and still stay within the budget for that particular box.

How to assemble a pallet load

Food arrives at the Monroe, GA, warehouse and is stored in their huge freezer (big enough to hold 120 truckloads of frozen food) and their similarly sized cold-storage area. The week before distribution begins, workers prepack boxes of frozen food items and boxes of fresh produce.

When we arrived, prepack was finished and that part of the warehouse was neat and quiet. But the loading area was a beehive of activity because it was time for specific orders to be assembled onto pallets and the trucks to be loaded. We saw boxes of frozen foods loaded into the trailer first; then a Styrofoam bulkhead was taped into place to keep the frozen food frozen. Next the boxes of fresh produce and eggs were loaded in such a way that they would stay cold without freezing. Last came the dry items, and canned items. This 3-part packing makes sure all items arrive in good shape.

“Bucket Brigade” unloading at the drop site

At the end of each trailer was a box of paperwork detailing the items that belonged at each drop site and at each host site. Early on Saturday morning, the trucks from Angel Food Ministries arrive at between 1 and 3 drop sites per truck. Each drop site then distributes to several different host sites. Volunteers from each host site unload the truck, transfer into their own vehicles the boxes needed to fulfill their orders, drive to their own site, and distribute the orders to their customers.

A customer getting his order

We “followed the truck” to a drop site in Edgewater, FL, helped unload the boxes for the 4 host sites there, and then continued to the host site at the Great Commission Church in Titusville, FL.  Host site director Jill Brand said that this church really enjoys being an Angel Food Ministries site because it provides a valuable service to folks in their area. We helped distribute the orders to the customers who came in to pick them up. Done!  

Fresh Fruit and Veggie Box

Angel Food Ministries food appeared to us to be of high quality and to arrive in excellent condition. All the customers we spoke with agreed, and we heard no complaints other than a few people who said they didn’t use all the fresh produce in time. At Angel Food Ministries, we heard that they have a rigorous quality control process, take customer feedback seriously, and are always attempting to improve their selections. They also regularly compare their prices with prices at discount grocery stores to ensure that they continue to offer lower cost quality food.

Therefore, we think the Angel Food Ministries model provides a great way to stretch your food dollar.

Angel Food Ministries also impressed us with their support of several other ministries and programs. For example:

  • Host sites, all of which are charitable organizations, receive a donation to their general fund from Angel Food Ministries of $1 per box sold. So far they’ve distributed over $32 million.
  • Many of the 250 part-time workers who prepack boxes and load trucks are from local men’s shelters and rehab programs. Workers who are ready to progress with their lives can be trained here in skills such as operating a fork lift, and some have gone on to permanent jobs with Angel Food Ministries.
  • In the past, Angel Food Ministries has not solicited donations and received only a tiny fraction of its funds that way. Last fall, however, they started “Sponsor A Soldier’s Family,” through which anyone can donate a box of food to a military family, to show gratitude for their service. They’ve established relationships with several military bases which select the families to receive the boxes. So far over 1,000 boxes have been sent. A similar program, called “No Child Goes Without,” sends donated boxes of food to schools for distribution to children in need.
  • Angel Food Ministries is working to make it easier for people in need to apply for and use SNAP (food stamp) benefits.  About ¼ of Angel Food Ministries customers use SNAP to buy Angel Food boxes, but they cannot order on-line like most customers. Host sites must place the orders on their behalf because the different benefit processing systems in place in each state don’t currently interoperate well enough to support online ordering. Angel Food Ministries is working with the USDA in an attempt to become a pilot program to allow SNAP recipients to place orders online. This seems like it should work well, since all products offered by Angel Food Ministries are food, and thus SNAP eligible. We hope this improvement for SNAP recipients will occur soon.
Posted by Betsy and Carolyn at 11:39 AM 2 comments Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz

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