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McDuffie churches join with Angel Food Ministries to help families make ends meet

It started 14 years ago in Monroe by two people who wanted to help 37 families in their community.

Now, Angel Food Ministries serves about 2.5 million people a year throughout 37 states plus the District of Columbia.

The organization helps non-profits provide families with about $60 worth of food for $30.

Dearing Baptist Church is the first host site in McDuffie County. Antioch Christian Church in Thomson is the second.

The main monthly menu is enough food to feed a family of four for a week, according to Angel Food Ministries, or AFM. The menu varies from month to month and may be paid for in cash, money order or, in some cases, by food stamps.

Although AFM requires the main offering, referred to as a regular box, to be purchased in order to buy other options, there is no limit to the number of boxes a person can order.

There are no forms to complete, no application process and no proof of income.

After ordering at least one regular box, a person may order a senior box, or any of the special boxes offered that month. In November, there is a Thanksgiving box.

The special boxes typically include a fresh fruit and vegetable box. In November, the choice contained two types of apples, three pounds each; four pounds of oranges; celery; baking potatoes; sweet potatoes; grapefruit; carrots and onions.

The other special boxes for November were a grill box containing a beef roast, pork ribs, hamburger steaks and Italian sausage; a meat combo box containing rib eye steaks, strip steaks and pork chops; and a box of flavored chicken breasts.

As with the regular box, there is no limit to the number of these boxes that can be ordered. These boxes range in price starting at $18.

Payment is made when the order is placed and deadlines for the orders vary from host sites. The distribution date is the same for all sites and is typically at the end of the month.

Rev. Mike Timmerman of the Dearing Baptist Church has ordered a box every month since the church became a host site in August.

"It's a lot of food and it's good quality food," he said. "It's excellent. My wife and I have bought a box every month and we've been well pleased. I would recommend it to anyone."

The young adult Sunday school class oversees the church's participation although the church members have been discussing this program for several years.

"It's really been a good experience for our church and has helped us meet some needs of our community and meet some people in our community we wouldn't otherwise have met. It's been a win-win situation," Timmerman said.

Besides being able to help people in the community buy food at a more affordable price, AFM sends $1 back to the host site for every box ordered. The dollar is specifically to be used by the host site in its benevolent fund, said Doug Metcalf, AFM's director of media and communications.

"This is an excellent way to help any community throughout the United States, an excellent way to reach people in your community," he said.

"For every box that gets sold through a host site, which has to be a non-profit, we put $1 back into the benevolent fund of that host site. What that does is help these host sites continue to help people in their community," Mr. Metcalf said, adding that most churches have a fund that helps people with needs such as electric bills.

"By us putting a dollar back in it allows the host site to help these people further," he said.

Rev. Timmerman agrees.

"I think it's a wonderful thing and it really creates a real partnership between the church and Angel Foods. I think it's just a neat arrangement. When they first told me about it I thought, 'Wow. I've never heard of anything like that,'" he said. "I've been really sold on the program. I think it's just a wonderful ministry."

Chanda Harbeson, the church's coordinator for the program, said information about the program in McDuffie County has spread by word of mouth. She has also received permission from the local school to contact parents by sending information home with the students.

There is also information left at The Good Samaritan House, a health clinic in Dearing that the church helps support, as well as other places, Ms. Harbeson said.

The church accepts cash or food stamps as payment. Currently, the church has a telephone number they call and give information so the food stamps can be processed.

"I have been impressed with the amount of food," she said.

In September, about 36 or 37 people participated in this program with Dearing Baptist Church, Ms. Harbeson said. In October, the number was about 20.

One customer said October was the second time she ordered food from AFM and the food was good quality.

Another customer said October was his first time. He heard about the program from his children's school. He said he had been talking on the telephone with his aunt in Ohio a few days earlier and she mentioned the program was available there.

"We have a procurement department that searches high and low for a menu with the best quality ingredients in it," Mr. Metcalf said.

"Some of our vendors are ConAgra, Tyson Foods, Perdue Chicken, Prime Cut Meats and Seafood, Birdseye and General Mills," he said. AFM has host sites in 37 states plus the District of Columbia, he said.

In September, AFM sent out 575,000 boxes of food, feeding about 315,000 families, he said.

"Which roughly works out to 2.5 million, if you base it on a family of four," he said.

Until about four months ago, AFM shipped everything out of Georgia, Metcalf said, adding they now have a warehouse in Texas.

"We've divided it up," he said. "They take a certain segment of the population and then we do, too. They're not as big a distribution as we are here. Less than a quarter of our sites are distributed through our Texas warehouse. A fifth of our orders go out of that warehouse."

Mr. Metcalf said AFM has more than 200 employees. For distribution across the nation, he said they have the help of more than 40,000 volunteers.

Rev. Timmerman said it's his hope that more churches in the area join AFM in its mission to help people buy quality food at a more affordable price.

"I've had people in the community ask me if the food's good and I say yes," he said. "You don't have to be a large church to do this. Any size church can do this."

Antioch Christian Church, whose first distribution will be in November, will take cash or money orders.

"We're not a large church," said Susan Pilgrim, the AFM coordinator for that church. "Our goal is just to help people, invite people to our church."

Joe and Linda Wingo, who started the program in 1994, said they never dreamed in a million years that feeding 37 families would lead to what AFM has become.

Anyone interested in becoming a customer or a host site can contact AFM at its website, and follow the prompts. A search option allows a potential customer to find a convenient host site.

To contact Dearing Baptist Church, call Chanda Harbeson at 706-556-3558. To contact Antioch Christian Church in Thomson, call Susan Pilgrim at 706-595-7878.

Web posted on Thursday, November 27, 2008

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