What if you could buy groceries each month worth anywhere from $42 to $78 and pay only $25 for them?
Well, you can do it right here in Athens through a program called Angel Food Ministries.
The non-profit, non-denominational organization offers savings on groceries and financial support to communities across the nation.
“It’s not just for those who are having hardship, it’s for anyone – President Bush or Donald Trump,” said Cheryl Biggs, program coordinator for Lindsay Lane Baptist Church in Athens.
The program started in Monroe, Ga., in 1994 with 34 families. Now it feeds 395,000 families every month.
It isn’t just for the poor.
“I use it myself,” Biggs said. “You could use the money you save to offset the cost of gas, or pay off some debt. My husband and I like to put it back into the church, in addition to what we put in for the tithe, for what he calls “kingdom work.”
“I like that we are able to help people from all walks of life from real young to real old – it’s for anyone and everyone,” said Angela Watwood of Athens who helps distribute the groceries when they come in by truck.
Participants can buy $25 worth of groceries – or one unit – and help feed a family of four for about a week. A unit feeds a senior citizen for about a month.
“It’s the same food you buy in a grocery store, only cheaper,” Biggs said.
“It’s a lot of good food for not a lot of money,” said Faye Colella of Athens, who also delivers groceries.
There are no second-hand items, no damaged or out-dated goods, no dented cans without labels, no day-old breads and no produce that is almost too ripe.
Participants can also buy specialty boxes such as steaks, chicken and pork. There is no limit to the number of units or bonus foods an individual can purchase, and there are no applications to complete or qualifications to which participants must adhere.
How the church benefits
The church receives $1 for every unit it sells, but the money must be used for outreach, according to the Angel Food Ministries Website.
“We have done a lot with the money,” Biggs said. “We have sent some children to camp who could not otherwise afford to go and we have purchased units of food for needy families.”
Why so cheap?
Biggs learned about Angel Food Ministries from a fellow congregate, Cindy Farrell, who heard about it from a friend in Nashville.
Cindy and her husband and Biggs and her husband Chuck were co-directors of the program.
“It was through Cindy’s idea and Chuck’s leadership that it got off the ground,” Biggs said.
It sounded a little too good to be true at first.
“The first questions my husband and I asked were, ‘Where do they get the food and why is it so cheap?’
“They told us that when Angel Food Ministries wants Mrs. Smith’s brand pies to include on the menu, they call Mrs. Smith’s Bakeries directly and ask them how much they would charge for 75,000 pies,” Biggs said. “Two years ago, they could get them for $1 a pie,” she said. “Now they buy twice as many. They buy direct from the makers in large quantities.”
Angel Food’s groceries are sold in a quantity that can fit into a medium-sized box at $25 per unit. Each month’s menu is different than the previous month and consists of both fresh and frozen items with an average retail value of approximately $50.
“We went to Wal-Mart one month and bought comparable items and we spent $50,” said Biggs.
The national website for Angel Food Ministries comparison shops across the country using a wide range of retail grocery stores and estimates the cost of the groceries at between $42 and $78.
How it works
At Lindsay Lane and other host sites, menus are distributed and participants order what they want by phone, mail, email, fax, in person or through envelopes or order forms used for that purpose. They can pay by cash, check or food stamps.
The church submits the orders and 13 days later, the food is trucked to the church’s family life center, where participants can pick it up and get the menu for the next month. In some cities, someone from the host site picks up the food from Angel Food’s 160,000-square-foot warehouse in Monroe, Ga.
In most cases, as long as there is a truck headed in the direction of a community who wants this program and sees its ministry influence, there are no extra transportation costs, according to information on Angel Food Ministries’ Website.
Spread the word
The church members and community groups that host Angel Food Ministries find intangible benefits.
“I enjoy just providing the service to people,” said Colella.
It’s a family effort for the Colellas. Her husband Scott helps unload the grocery truck when it arrives at the church early in the morning on distribution day. She and her 13-year-old daughter, Abby, help distribute the food once it is unloaded.
According to the Website, volunteers benefit in the following ways:
• Receiving hands-on experience and training with rewarding service to others.
• Providing discounted food not only for those that need it, but also for any others who appreciate deep discounts on quality groceries.
• Providing additional money for community outreach.
• Giving churches and organizations an effective outreach to the community to meet real needs in a genuine way – often times drawing new participants and visitors into the mission at hand.
Each food order includes information about the gospel of Christ. But the hosts say the service is not about denomination.
“It’s about meeting the needs of the people,” Biggs said.
For example, the Colellas take grocery orders from Cotton Patch trailer park and then deliver the groceries to those who are unable to pick them up or to get a neighbor to pick them up.
“It’s a great program and it’s been hidden for so long,” Biggs said.
With five kids to feed, Kimberly McCullough was having trouble making ends meet.
“I was running out before the end of the month,” said McCullough, a former communications specialist who is now unemployed.
Then she discovered Angel Food distribution at Harvest Church in Murfreesboro. And her plate has been full ever since.
Angel Food Ministries is a nonprofit, nondenominational organization that provides grocery relief each month to families across the United States. Distribution is handled through church host sites that take care of ordering and sorting food when it arrives each month.
Harvest Church Pastors Manuel and Joeline McGregor found out about Angel Food and knew they wanted to make it one of their church’s outreach ministries.
“We learned about Angel Food from a pastor in Texas. We liked what we saw,” Joeline said.
“We needed to make a difference in the community,” Manuel added.
And they have. When Harvest Church began acting as a host site nearly two years ago, it started with only 10 orders. Last month the McGregors and their church members helped feed more than 180 families through Angel Food Ministries.
“Orders we take at the middle of the month and delivery is always at the end of the month,” Joeline noted.
Joeline and another church member, Peggy Pinkston, coordinate orders. When food arrives on distribution day, members help unload the trucks of food.
For a mere $25 — a typical price for two adults to eat out at a nice restaurant — each basic unit of food includes several meat choices, casseroles, vegetables, fruit and even a dessert.
“I found out about Angel Food from a friend at work. … I was kind of shocked, because the amount of food you get is phenomenal,” said McCullough, who orders four or five units each month for her family.
The same amount of food in each unit sold at a retail price can cost anywhere from $50 to $80, according to information on the Angel Food Ministries Web site: www.angelfoodministries.com.
Subsequent special orders feature smaller quantities of specialty meats. Menus change every month and a minimum requirement of one unit is required — units cannot be split — but there is no limit on how many units you can buy.
A lot of people have asked, “What’s the catch?”
“There is no catch,” Manuel and Joeline chimed in together.
There are no second-hand items, no damaged or out-of-date goods, no dented cans without labels, no day-old breads and no produce that is almost too ripe.
“It’s top-quality food,” Manuel said.
McCullough said her family has been pleased with the food.
“I order it mainly for the meat. … The kids love it. Of course I have a lot of chicken eaters in the house and the quality of the chicken is like, wow,” McCullough said.
Although U.S. Food Stamps are accepted, families do not have to qualify in order to purchase Angel Food. But those orders must be placed in person at the church.
“When they sign up with Food Stamps, that has to be signed in person. So they have to come to the church and sign,” Joeline explained.
All other orders can be placed via postal mail, e-mail or telephone by the deadline; this month, the order date is Monday. The McGregors’ e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org; church phone is 217-6455.
Checks or money orders should be made out to Harvest Church of Murfreesboro and can be sent to 342 Walla Court, Murfreesboro, TN 37128. Orders must be picked up on the day of distribution because the church does not have a storage facility to hold the frozen and refrigerated foods.
And anyone is welcome to purchase the food, regardless of economic status or need.
“Angel Food is for everyone,” Manuel insisted.
For McCullough, Angel Food has “truly been a blessing.” She also encourages “anyone young and old” to take advantage of it. In fact, she’s bought units for elderly family members before.
“It’s feeding people all across America,” McCullough said. “Since I’ve been using Angel Food, I don’t come up short every month.”
McCullough has been so moved by the mission of Angel Food, she joined Harvest Church of Murfreesboro as a member.
The McGregors, former missionaries, said Harvest Church of Murfreesboro is currently the only Christian ministry acting as a host site for Angel Food. But they encourage and welcome other churches to act as host sites.
Although their church does support ministries overseas, especially in their home country of South Africa, they both wanted to help out folks on the local front.
“You have to take care of your own,” Manuel said.
Good food, cheap.
That’s what’s attracting people to a new program offered at New Covenant World Outreach in Brodheadsville.
The church has become a host site for Angel Food Ministries, a nonprofit, nondenominational organization based in Monroe, Ga., that has been providing grocery relief to people since 1994.
In its 12th year, the organization has spread to 29 states with hundreds of churches involved in a food distribution system that benefits thousands of families.
New Covenant World Outreach found out about the ministry when its pastors, Steven and Marie Reed, returned from a visit with family in Oklahoma.
The Reeds’ son and daughter-in-law attend a church that is involved with Angel Food Ministries. After going along for a food pick-up, the Reeds were impressed.
“I thought we should do this,” Steven Reed said. “And here we are.”
After applying to be a distribution site, the church began doing the ministry just within the church to see how it would go. After three months in-house, the church opened up Angel Food to the community, putting up fliers and telling all their neighbors and friends.
Ministry director Pauline Mydosh said, “The first three months we sold 37 units on average. In July, the second month open to the public, we sold 121 basic units.”
After buying a basic unit, people can choose from three different meat specials. In July, people ordered 127 specials.
“It’s nice stuff. People are really happy with it,” Mydosh said.
Friday, July 28, was distribution day at New Covenant World Outreach. Earlier in the week, volunteers converted the church’s sanctuary into a distribution center, stacking chairs out of the way and setting up rows of tables. Friday afternoon, church volunteers drove the church’s newly purchased 16-foot truck to Life Church in Allentown to pick up the month’s order.
At 7 p.m. the church’s parking lot was packed with cars, and box-toting people lined up to pick up their pre-paid orders. The July menu included fresh carrots and eggs, frozen vegetables, pizza, burritos and french toast sticks, biscuit mix, ground beef and frozen chicken breasts.
The basic menu contains 17 grocery items and costs $25. People who purchase a basic unit are entitled to buy up to three meat specials. One of the August specials contains eight 8-ounce sirloin strip steaks for $17 — $4.25 per pound. The August chicken combo special contains 10 pounds for $18 — $1.80 per pound.
At 7 p.m., volunteers began filling orders. Some people brought cardboard boxes, others brought large coolers or laundry baskets to cart away groceries.
“Everything is done by volunteers,” Mydosh said. “Another thing that amazes me — nobody complains. They all talk about how much fun they had.”
As she checked out her order, Barbara Slutter of Blakeslee said she used to be part of SHARE, or Self-Help and Resource Exchange, a nonprofit community food program. “They put us in touch with this,” Slutter said.
Moving through the line with three boxes, Warren Elmore of Albrightsville said his family has been ordering through Angel Food Ministries for about three months, at first through a church in Allentown. The Allentown church referred them to New Covenant World Outreach. “It seemed like a good value. I’m picking up for my friends, too,” Elmore said.
Mary Rita Tomasko of Palmerton found out about Angel Food through a flier at her chiropractor’s office. “It’s a wonderful ministry this church is providing. It helps benefit a lot of people, limited income or not. It’s open to everyone.”
The Rev. Steven Reed is glad that there are no income requirements in the program. “There are only two criteria,” he said. “You eat, and you like to save money.”