By Kathy Jefcoats
Hundreds of residents in Henry and Clayton counties take advantage of a little-known monthly program designed to provide grocery relief to the poor and not-so-poor alike.
Churches all over both counties participate in Angel Food Ministries, a nonprofit, non-denominational organization founded 10 years ago in Monroe, Ga. Since its beginnings, the ministry has spread across 20 other states.
Not a food bank or soup kitchen, a hand-out or free food to poverty-stricken families, Angel Food Ministries sells boxes of first quality meat and vegetables for $25. There are no applications to fill out, no qualifying requirements.
"If you can write a check, you can get a box," said Frances Glover, a member at Locust Grove United Methodist Church. "But there are many in the community who don't know about this program and don't get it and they go hungry."
October's menu includes a pound and a half of baby back pork ribs, four 5-ounce sirloin strip steaks, a pound of beef stew, 24-ounce breaded chicken breast fillets, one pound chicken tenders, a package of Banquet meal topper, 18-ounce package of bagels; 7.5-ounce macaroni and cheese, 3 pounds of apples, 16-ounce green beans, 16-ounce cut corn, a pound of carrots, three pounds of onions, a dessert and a dozen eggs.
The menu itself is enough of a draw, said Val Outler, program coordinator at Family Life Missionary Baptist Church in Morrow.
"People participate because of the amount of food you get for the cost," she said. "I make sure I get a box or two every month. The meats are very good quality."
Although anyone can afford it can buy a box of food, Glover said layoffs can quickly turn a family's finances upside down, leaving them scrambling to make ends meet.
"Bell South and Delta are announcing layoffs," she said. "And people have to eat. This can help a family fill in a few gaps."
Ironically, Outler, who is administrative assistant to the pastor, also works for Delta Air Lines.
"Last year there were a lot of layoffs," said Outler. "A lot of families depend on Angel Food. Two boxes for $50 goes a long way."
Outler recalled a single mother who regularly buys two boxes.
"She told us we wouldn't believe how much she saves on groceries," she said. "We also have several elderly people on fixed incomes."
Family Life distributes about 50 boxes a month, down from last year's 80-box average because, said Outler, the price went up from $21. The church has been involved with Angel Food for about four years.
New Hope Baptist Church on Ga. Highway 42 North has partnered with the ministry for more than two years. Lynn Freeman coordinates the program at the church.
"This has been a very big blessing for a lot of people," she said. "We average 30 to 45 families and individuals every month."
The Henry Council on Aging's cancer support services orders boxes through Freeman's church. Those boxes are distributed to cancer patients and their families. Sometimes, people buy boxes and donate them to families in need.
Glover's pastor, Doug Gilreath, said his church got involved specifically because of her own interest.
"She was doing it quite a while on her own, making sure people who needed it got food," he said. "When she started having health problems, we got signed up with Angel Food to take over from her."
The Methodist church partners with Jodeco Road Baptist Church in a display of community-mindedness that transcends religious beliefs.
"I think some see us as competitors in religion but we're not in competition," said Gilreath. "We are sharing in this ministry together and I think that is wonderful."
Jodeco Road Baptist Church volunteers make the monthly trek to Angel Food Ministries' 160,000-square foot warehouse in Monroe and load up trucks with food to take back to their church. At the Baptist church, Methodist volunteers collect their orders and bring them back to Locust Grove.
"Our long-term vision is to become an outpost for Angel Food," he said. "So we can serve the southern portion of the county and instead of delivering, people can come to us to pick up their food."
Gilreath said participation in the program allows church members to follow the Bible's teaching about helping others.
"This gives us the opportunity to be a church and what we are supposed to be," said Gilreath, "to work beyond the walls of the church."
Distribution days start early for the churches Outler said drivers leave at 2 a.m., Freeman said their drivers leave around 4:30 a.m.
"The warehouse doesn't have room to store the food and we don't either," said Freeman. "So we get the food back here and immediately box it up for distribution."
Checks and cash are accepted but so are food stamps, which are now maintained on EBT cards. The last day to place and pay for an October order is Monday. Distribution day is Oct. 30.
Locations and phone numbers for host sites can be accessed on Angel Food Ministries' Web site at www.angelfoodministries.com.