David Clark said organizers of the local host site have seen that number as high as 600 families in the last few years.
The program, called Angel Food Ministries, is a non-profit food-relief organization headquartered in Georgia that serves more than 500,000 families in 45 states, according to the group’s website. The organization started in 1994 from Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo’s back porch in Monroe, Ga. after several plant closings occurred in the town.
David said the program has seen such growth because it took a different direction than most charitable programs. Rather than offering free food to those who qualify by income level, Angel Food Ministries sells it’s food items — to anyone. The group sells packaged boxes of groceries, which cost around $30 and would be $65 in most supermarkets. And patrons can buy as many packages as they want.
Joe Wingo said in an e-mail that the new approach to food relief has been a priority for the organization since its establishment.
“When founding AFM it was and still is very important to me that everyone is able to keep their dignity and self respect,” he wrote. “When people come to pick up their box of food, nobody knows if they really need it or not, or they may be coming to pick up for someone they are going to donate to.”
Susie Jenkins, director of Glory Fellowship Baptist Church’s Angel Food site in Jasper, said the program is especially important with the current economic climate.
“It helps people get through,” she said. “I think it makes a difference in the bottom line of people who are doing without.”
A recent report from the USDA found that Alabama ranks number one for hunger in the nation. The study states 6.8 percent of Alabama households from 2007 to 2009 experienced hunger because they could not afford groceries. This is compared to a national average of 5.2 percent. From 2004 to 2006, the USDA found the rate to be 3.3 percent in Alabama and 3.9 percent nationally.
Diane Cain, a director of a host site at the Sumiton-area church Healing the Nations International, said she knows firsthand how much the service can impact working families.
Before she started volunteering for the ministry three years ago, her husband suffered three heart attacks in four months and was unable to work for almost a year. Cain said, because of Angel Food, her family was able to buy the groceries they needed.
“I don’t know how we would have done without it until he got better,” she said.
David Clark said he has seen people come to pick up their boxes of food and burst into tears, saying “This is the first time I’ve been able to buy my family meat in I don’t know how long.”
He said many people are skeptical as to the quality of the food offered through the service. However, according the Angel Food website, the organization provides restaurant quality foods that come from name-brand distributors.
“I’ve had people come back and say, ‘This is the best food I’ve ever tasted. Where did you get this,’” Clark said.
A typical $30 box from the ministry contains 17 grocery items like a pound of ground beef, a dozen eggs, a pound of frozen vegetables or five pounds of waffle fries.
Cain said a dollar from each package sold goes into a fund for host sites. Organizers use that money to purchase food boxes for those who cannot afford them.
Joe Wingo said those funds are approaching $30 million throughout the ministry.
Those interested in purchasing food boxes from the Angel Food Ministries can contact a local host site or purchase the groceries online at www.angelfoodministries.com and find a nearby site to pick the items up (the group participates in the Food Stamp program). Those in the Gardendale area may contact Clark at 205-229-7421. Those in the Sumiton area may contact Cain at 205-648-9702, and those in the Jasper area may contact Jenkins at 205-387-0500. In Empire, contact Beth Manasco of Owens Chapel Church of God at 205-648-2880.
Clark said host site directors can mail menus to those without Internet access, and he urges those interested, “Don’t hesitate to call because lack of information is what’s killing us.”