Grocery program provides good food, cheap

Published: February 15, 2007 | 5562nd good news item since 2003

Volunteers, lined up assembly-style, sorted through carloads of groceries, packing dozens of stamped cardboard boxes full of an assortment designed to help fill the barest pantry.

When they had finished, more than 50 boxes, or “units,” waited to be scooped up and loaded into cars outside the Oakland Church in Charles Town.

The units of affordable groceries distributed at the church are now offered to area residents and families through a local partnership with the national Angel Food Ministries program, which began in a Georgia town years ago.

Different from other food pantry or donation programs, Angel Food is designed to help a wide variety of people with various levels of income or need.

“The assumption, a lot of the time, with these programs is that you have to qualify,” said Jack Zaleski, co-director of Oakland Church’s Angel Food Program. “Anyone can do this. They can buy as many units as they want.”

Through the program, participants may order groceries by the unit for the fixed cost of $25. The menu dictating the contents of each unit varies from month to month, but always includes both fresh and frozen items of the same quality found at the grocery store. The units have a retail price of approximately $50.

The reduced cost of the food offers program participants a “pretty good deal,” Zaleski said, that is a helping hand — not a hand-out. Everyone qualifies for participation in the grocery program, and the only paperwork is filling out the order form.

After monthly orders are placed for the units, reduced-cost groceries are shipped from Georgia to a distribution point in Frederick, Md., where the church’s volunteers travel to stock up on the items. Once they return to the church, the units are prepared and the orders filled.

On Saturday, the designated pick-up date for February, participants stopped by Oakland Church to receive their units during the specified two-hour window.

“We’ve had a number of folks who couldn’t afford as much food otherwise,” said Pastor Joanne Alexander. “People of all incomes can make use of this.”

With rising housing costs in Jefferson County and surrounding areas, the savings on groceries could help some families keep a little more money in their pocketbooks each month, explained Zaleski, who, along with his wife, Terri, first proposed participating in the program to the church board and pastors.

As word of the still-new program spreads, volunteers hope to target a wide array of potential participants — from families to those on fixed incomes to college students.

For those who may not be able to pay the $25 cost per unit, the church will offer to reduce the cost to $10, Zaleski said. Those with even more significant needs may qualify for free units.

“We encourage our congregation to buy and take the boxes to people they know need them,” Zaleski said — a kind gesture that also allows church members to get to know the names and faces of those in their community.

Donations, or payments of more than the $25 unit cost, are also accepted to subsidize the costs of the program’s free units and transportation costs. For ease of payment, cash, checks and food stamps are accepted through the program. Those ordering online may also use credit or debit cards to pay for their units.

Those who purchase at least one unit may also buy a specialty box of meat, such as steaks, chicken or pork, for an additional $18.

The volunteers of Oakland’s Angel Food Ministry hope to spread the word of their program and increase their volume of orders, in hopes of demonstrating enough need for a delivery truck to bring the groceries directly from Georgia to the church, reducing the program’s overhead cost.

“We encourage the congregation and other folks to become aware of the program,” Zaleski said.

Published in Angel Food Ministries, Charity
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