With today’s economy, getting the most for your money is more important than ever. For Lori Lauria, a single mom living in Southwest Florida with her 4-year-old son, the high prices at the grocery store were especially tough. But ever since Lauria heard about Angel Food Ministries, things have been a little easier.
Angel Food Ministries, the brainchild of Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo, was created in 1994 to respond to hurting people in Monroe, Ga. The Wingos had a desire to help folks who were struggling financially, and so they started purchasing quality food in bulk quantities and redistributing it through churches at a cost considerably lower than retail.
Since then, the program has spread to 34 states and feeds over 500,000 families each month.
Lauria, who heard about the program from a client and now promotes it at her job, says, “We get a ton of food at a great price. Of course, I still go grocery shopping each week,” she explains. “But it’s great – everybody should try it.”
By purchasing food in large quantities, comparison shopping on a national level and locating the most cost-effective suppliers, Angel Food is able to supply pre-packed, discounted quality foods to those who place an order.
The order-taking and distribution of the food is performed by host churches around the country. Volunteers oversee the distribution event.
At Parkway Life Church in Naples, the program has been serving hungry customers since spring.
Myron Smith, the pastor of outreach at Parkway, and his wife, Terri, were responsible for bringing Angel Food into the Golden Gate/East Naples area.
“We had heard about it in a couple of places in the last few years,” Myron said.
Seeing the community suffering with a dire economic crunch prompted the Smiths to take action.
“My wife looked into it, and then we talked to the pastor,” he says.
Senior Pastor Randal Holdman liked the idea, and Angel Food became the Smith’s project.
But Myron is quick to give credit to the team that helps him.
“The church really stepped up to the plate,” he says. “We had 42 people volunteer right away.”
In a church with about 250-300 members, Myron knows that is a significant percentage.
And the program is seeing great success. In the first month, Parkway had 30 participants place orders. Now that number is more than 100.
How the program works
Each month, Angel Food puts together a different menu with several options consisting of fresh, frozen and packaged foods. A box of 10 single senior dinners is about $25.
A “regular” box of food, which costs $30 and feeds a family of four for a week, contains a mix of several meat choices, a variety of prepared vegetables and several staples. Angel Food says the value of the $30 box, if bought at a retail price, would actually be near $65.
Participants can also order a-la-carte-type boxes with just meat or fresh fruit and vegetables. There is no requirement to qualify, and no limit to the amount that can be purchased.
Angel Food insists the food they offer is not inferior or out of date but purchased from first-rate suppliers. Since the program has no qualifiers or limitations on what is ordered, many people can pick up orders for others, and some are using it as a means to bless neighbors, relatives or family members who are struggling to make ends meet.
Maria Paz is thankful for the program.
With a disabled husband, four sons and a 3-year-old granddaughter, the low-cost food really helps out, Paz said while standing in line to pick up her order.
“You got kids in the house, and they eat,” chimes in Ron Zbikowski, who was also waiting in line at Parkway.
Zbikowski, who is disabled, explains that his wife just lost her job. Now Angel Food is helping them feed the 17- and 22 -year-olds they support.
“Things are getting tighter,” he sighs.
Retiree Kenneth Robbins has been participating in the program for four months and sees some real benefits.
“It’s really been a blessing,” Robbins says, “so much that I’m picking up for three people now. You should be here on pickup day. It’s a beehive of activity.”
Distribution day is busy – perhaps a touch of chaos – but things generally run smoothly.
Terri Smith wants people to understand that it is not a food handout, and that there is absolutely no shame in using the program.
“People think that if they have to do this, that they’re ‘poor.’ There was a man last month who said he was so embarrassed to get groceries this way. We talked, and by the time he left, he felt much better. It’s a hard message to convey.”
Angel Food Ministries has been in existence for 14 years and distributes food in 35 states to 500,000 families.
In addition to Parkway Life Church, Angel Food also distributes food at Gulf Shore Church in Bonita Springs and Bethel Assembly of God in Immokalee. For more information, visit www.AngelFoodMinistries.com.