Posted by: mollyrossiter | March 23, 2009

Much good amid the controversy

Much has been written over the last 6 weeks about the founders of Angel Food Ministries, a food purchase program based in Atlanta that allows families to buy a box of food at about half the cost during a once-a-month distribution.

The program has distribution sites in 35 states, including Iowa. There are about two dozen sites in Linn and Johnson counties alone, many of which serve 30-50 families each month. Nationally, the ministry claims to help more than 500,000 families purchase decent-quality food — including meat and eggs, not just canned and boxed food — at a fraction of the retail price.

A box of pre-ordered food from Angel Food Ministries is $30 and carries a value of $50-60.

The Rev. Joe and Linda Wingo and their family — the founders of Angel Food Ministries — have been under fire for reportedly receiving millions of dollars in salaries and loans from the ministry, which is registered as a non-profit. Many think the salaries are excessive, many more stand in support of the Wingos.

Despite the salaries, there is one thing that stands constant: the ministry itself. Volunteers who staff the distribution sites and families who have purchased groceries continue to maintain their support for the Wingos — without that program, they say, they don’t know what would happen.

What are your thoughts? Have you volunteered with or purchased from Angel Food Ministries?

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Responses

  1. I volunteer to distribute Angel Food in my community each month. Our church was introverted in the sense that we had good worship services and teaching but just weren’t impacting people in the neighborhood, even though I’m sure there are a lot of needs there – hunger, unemployment, lonely seniors, etc. It’s been wonderful to see people from the community coming on Angel Food days. I’ve gotten to know several and have had heart to heart talks, encouraged them, and prayed with them. Actually, I think I am blessed just as much or more than they are through these conversations. We buy some additional food to give out free to the neediest each month. A few people are too elderly or in wheelchairs to come to the church to pick up their food, so we deliver to them. Two people who received food are now volunteering with the distributions. I think there are probably a lot of churches in this situation. So when I hear criticism of Angel Food, I temper it with the understanding that what is going on is more than distributing food, but also impacting lives.

  2. I have been on the receiving end of Angel Food for the last several months. I first heard about it on a web forum where people were talking about how difficult it is to eat healthy food on a low budget. The cheapest food in the grocery stores is loaded with sodium, preservatives, fats and weird, totally unidentifiable other things. In my opinion, if the government wants to fix health care, making healthy food affordable to low-income people would be a heck of a start.

    So I looked for a local distributiong center, placed my order. I wasn’t all that hopeful–I thought it would be low-quality stuff that fell off the back of a truck. But it wasn’t. It’s real food, good stuff, the kind of thing I like to buy in my regular grocery store. And the boxes are thoughtfully planned in order to create whole meals (they give you tortillas, rice and fajita meat in the same box, for example) and, in addition to the regular box, you have the option of buying an insane amount of fresh fruits and vegetables for a very low cost. For $55 on average, I buy enough food to feed my family for several weeks–and I feel good about what they’re getting. I still supplement from the regular grocery store (milk, bread, etc) but the Angel Food box goes a long way towards easing my wallet.

    What I really like about this program is that I am buying my groceries. Not going to a food pantry isn’t a pride thing for me; it’s an acknowledgement that there are people out there under much more economic stress than I am. The pantries in my area are maxxed out right now with so many people in need. My husband and I have jobs, so how am I going to feel right taking free food from a food pantry when it could go to someone more needy? With Angel Food, I’m not taking food out of someone else’s mouth. We’re not competing; the more people who buy, the more savings they could theoretically pass along to all of us in the future.

    My pastor is really against Angel Food because he says it’s like setting up a grocery store in a church. This could be construed as unethical–it takes money away from local businesses and also hearkens back to Jesus’ anger at the people buying and selling in the temple. He also says it might be illegal, although I don’t see how that is possible, considering that both Angel Food and the churches are non-profit; it’s not like the churches are pocketing a profit and besides, we take orders for things from for-profit organizations (like when we order Bibles or Sunday School books for people, and they pay us and we order them). I’m not sure I agree with my pastor on this one. I think Angel Food provides another type of service to people, including people on food stamps, to help them make their dollars go farther. This would, in turn, theoreticaly free up more money for them to go out and help others, or provide the incentive to do something, even if it’s so small as donating any Angel Food items they know their family won’t eat to another food pantry. Angel Food also makes available special diet options that most food pantries can’t accomodate (what do you do if you’re poor and your kid is allergic to wheat gluten?).

    I can see Pastor’s point that churches should always provide free food to people in need, and I agree in part, but the economic reality of many churches is that they don’t have the option to help as many families as they would like to. With the Angel Food program, they are reaching out to so many more people and also possibly helping others through re-donated items or, as the previous commentor mentioned, buying extra food to feed the hungry. If it bothers Pastor that regular people are allowed to buy groceries in the church, then maybe the church should consider buying its food pantry groceries from Angel Food and giving them away as usual. That would be much better stewardship of our resources in the food pantry because the food dollars spent by the church would go much farther and buy more food.

  3. I’m the host site coordinator for Live Oak Baptist Church in Denham Springs, Louisiana. April marks the 1 year anniversary for our host site, and what an amazing year.

    My family started buying Angel Food boxes from a host site about 30 minutes from here in December 2007 and fell in love with it. God tugged on me to approach my pastor and deacons with the host site application. It has proven to be an amazing journey!

    We’re in a small rural area and our initial order was about 50 units. We are averaging about 600 total units every month, now. Our highest month was 750 total units.

    Participating in AFM has been a wonderful thing for our church. We’ve even had some families join the church after they’d started ordering food. I started crying with joy when the first person who came to us through Angel Food was baptized on a Sunday morning! That’s what this is all about to me. Helping the community the best way we can (our church does not have the financial resources to give away much or help pay bills for people), is our Christian responsibility.

    My personal view on the hoopla over the FBI probe and lawsuit at AFM is that it’s unimportant in the big scheme of things. The ministry is doing what it was designed to do. Who cares if Pastor Joe makes half a million a year? I don’t. Why can’t a man of God make great money, too? Now, with that said, Pastor Joe and the rest of the AFM staff and board have a responsibility to all of us and to God to be good decision makers and do things ethically and legally. Good people can make mistakes, too.

    Regardless of the outcome, I stand firm behind Pastors Joe & Linda and the rest of the staff at AFM. What other ministry out there pays for itself and actually helps give back to the community better than Angel Food? I sure haven’t seen any others, but I eat, drink, and breathe Angel Food, so maybe my blinders are on! 🙂

    Hopeful – I have to agree with you, the people I’ve met since coordinating our host site have touched me as much as I’ve touched them. That’s what gets me up at 2am to start getting ready on distribution day…the hope and joy I see in their faces.

    Melissa – I don’t agree with your pastor’s view on AFM, either. But everyone is entitled to their own opinion and interpretation, I’m sure he has his reasons, and as the pastor, they should be respected. The Angel Food program is not a good fit for every church. If you church is already helping the community with a food pantry, then you guys are already doing your part.


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