Rising costs, waning interest bring down Angel Food effort
Angel Food Ministries — an organization that provides low-cost food to people in need — has folded, due to its own economic woes.The Georgia-based cooperative had, in 16 years, spread rapidly across 43 states. Churches rallied teams of volunteers to coordinate monthly distribution of fresh produce, frozen meat and nonperishable foods. Food purchased by the truckload ensured bargain prices. Customers pre-ordered from a choice of boxes with several combinations of food choices.The August delivery was the last.The program was started in 1994 by Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo. It made inroads into this area in October 2008. when Greenwoods Community Church in Sheffield, Mass., agreed to serve as a “host site.” Other area churches, including Sharon Congregational, signed up, collecting monthly orders or becoming host sites.What made it really unique was it was not a need-based program. Anyone could participate. There did not seem to be a food-bank stigma attached to the program.With 92 percent of revenues going directly back into the food program, there was little budgetary leeway as fuel, food and operational costs rose steadily. “Over the past several months we’ve cut overhead to the bone, reduced staff, streamlined operations and slashed management compensation,” Wingo wrote in a message to churches. “Our food vendors and trucking contractors have stood by us throughout these trying times and we have sought their counsel on how we will move forward. We thank them for their commitment to helping us help those in need.”Charles “Chuck” Lewis, a Falls Village selectman, directed the Greenwoods operation. He and church members have given a lot of thought to the situation. He cannot say for sure why the program, on a major upswing a couple of years ago, took such a dive.The program also suffered greatly from waning interest. “At our peak, we were at about 130 boxes per month,” Lewis said. “That represents 60 to 80 families. Most recently, we were down to 10. You would think that people would really need it now. “It seems people didn’t like not getting to choose everything they were buying. They found if they shopped very carefully, and were willing to go to Torrington, they could save just as much.”Is the model flawed?Lewis said there are a few similar programs out there, which are also foundering. Lewis’s best guess is that lack of choice is something Americans cannot latch onto.There are a handful who will really miss Angel Food — those who are homebound or could not afford the gas to travel to seek food bargains, Lewis said. The church has not figured out a way to fill the void.“This was a God-led thing that fell into our laps. We are preparing to see what he has in store for us next.”Angel Food Ministries is attempting to restructure and offer a revamped food program. Updates will be posted at www.angelfoodministries.com.