By Andrea McCann
WASHINGTON — After 17 years of providing discounted groceries to needy families, Angel Food Ministries is out of business.
Locally, volunteer site director Bob Collins hopes it’ll only cause a slight blip in the community service.
“This came upon us pretty suddenly,” Collins said, explaining he’d heard from the state director in early September that the group was restructuring, then that it was in “shut-down mode.” “I have not received anything officially from Angel Food Ministries.”
Through the ministry, people placed food orders at prices lower than they’d pay at the grocery store and picked them up once a month. The hub in Daviess County has been at Free Methodist Church on Troy Road. Collins said “shoppers” paid locally when they placed an order, and the money was forwarded on to Angel Food Ministries headquarters in Georgia. From a warehouse in Georgia, food purchased at a discounted price from the source was shipped to Evansville, where it was picked up to bring back to Washington for distribution.
“It was normally the last Saturday of the month,” Collins said. “We’ve had it here in town for about three years now. It’s been a good thing. We have several people that count on it to stretch their food budget.
“There are no requirements of any kind. Some of the food costs about 50 percent of what you’d pay in a grocery store.”
Anyone who wanted to take advantage of the service was welcomed, he continued, adding that some were needy and others were not.
Collins said they accepted food stamps as well as cash. Boxes generally averaged $15 to $30, he said.
“We probably had 30 or 40 families,” Collins said. “It helped them, certainly, to stretch their food dollar.”
The church received $1 per box of food sold, which Collins said amounted to about $60 or $70 and barely paid for gas to and from Evansville to pick up their shipments.
When Angel Food Ministries first started in Washington, there was about $1,700 a month in orders, Collins said. That jumped to about $6,000, and more recently dropped back down around $1,500.
In a press release, Angel Food Ministries officials cited the economic downturn for its closing. It stated that increased food and fuel prices contributed to a decline in sales, dropping the number of monthly orders from about 550,000 boxes to about 125,000. Customers could get meat, fruit, vegetables, and other staples through the organization.
“We realize the pressure that this places on our host sites, community food banks and customers,” the press release stated about shutting down. “We at Angel Food Ministries are truly heartbroken to have to cease operations, but it has not compromised our faith in God or our commitment to helping those in need.”
An Associated Press story also said the ministry’s finances were under scrutiny by the FBI in 2009, and board members and employees filed a lawsuit accusing the leadership of using the nonprofit to make money. Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo, who started Angel Food Ministry in 1994, and their two sons reportedly had $500,000 annual salaries. According to the story, the lawsuit was settled and promises were made to protect the charity’s finances. No charges were ever filed.
Despite the slightly tarnished image, Collins said the Angel Food Ministries home office has helped a lot of people in natural-disaster situations.
“When the earthquake hit Haiti, Angel Food Ministries sent 1,000 pounds of food there,” he said.
The food ministry reportedly fed more than 500,000 families a month in 35 states through more than 5,000 churches. The AP reported last week that nearly one in six Americans — 46.2 million people — lives in poverty.
“The good news is: We’ve located another company,” Collins reported. “It’s a smaller company out of Ohio. We’ll have a distribution October 1st, then the Saturday before Thanksgiving.”
He explained that First Baptist Church in Evansville learned about Smart Choice Food Source, located in Ohio, and asked Washington Free Methodist Church to partner with them for October. If it works out, then the local volunteers will work directly with Smart Choice Food Source in the future.
“It’s kind of an experiment with the new company, but it should work about the same,” Collins said. “I’m anxious to get the first delivery and see the quality of food.”
Price-wise, as an example, he said the Smart Choice package offers 21 pounds of food for $30.
“I called and talked to the owner, and he has a heart for feeding people at a reasonable price,” Collins said. “We’re pleased we were able to come up with another food source company so we can continue to help people. We’re hoping to get enough orders to get a truck here and not have to drive to Evansville.”
Collins’ wife, Jennifer, and other volunteers from Free Methodist Church serve people from the surrounding area, not just Washington or Daviess County, with their discount food program.