$70 worth of groceries for $32.
It sounds like a good deal and the chance to buy low-cost food boxes is one that more than 300,000 families take advantage of each month.
"Angel Food Ministries is aimed at enabling people to get more money for their food dollar," explains Pat Blair, a member of the Immanuel Baptist Church in Salem.
Five years ago, Immanuel Baptist became a distributor for Angel Food Ministries, based in Monroe, Georgia. It is a program which began in 1994 on a minister's back porch and has grown into a national undertaking to help families deal with rising food prices.
Immanuel and more than 5,000 churches in 35 states distribute Angel Food "menus" to church members and others each month, collect and submit orders for food boxes and distribute the food.
"We don't do it to preach at people," said Jack Borden, a volunteer for the Highland First Assembly of God, another Angel Food affiliate. "We do it to help people eat healthy at a good cost."
Each month, Angel Food Ministries unveils a menu offering different boxes of food at different price levels. The choices range from a box of frozen meals for seniors, to after school snack items for children, to a fruit and veggie box. Larger, more expensive boxes include meat, vegetables, rice and beans, eggs and dessert, enough food to feed a family of four for a week.
Boren, himself a regular customer, insists the food is not, as some suspect, salvage or outdated food returned by stores. According to Boren, the food is all restaurant quality and comes straight from manufacturers.
"It is really convenient for senior citizens with low incomes, like me," said long-time customer, Helena Olson of Viola. "If I buy the $32 box, I can spread the food over the whole month and have a good meal every day."
Each month, the Highland Assembly of God, Immanuel Baptist and Cherokee Village United Methodist collect and submit orders to Angel Food Ministries.
Later in the month, Boren and his wife, Destiny, drive a church van to a church in Batesville where they pick up the orders for our area. Volunteers at the individual churches then distribute the boxes to their customers.
The Thayer First Assembly of God does the same thing for a group of churches in its area.
"It's a great feeling to see a family come in to get their food and hear a little kid say, 'mama, is that all ours?'," said Boren.
In other words, the Angel Food program is a lot of work for volunteers, but worth it to see low income families and senior citizens stretch their food dollars.
"For the last price comparison we did, we went to two local stores and priced out what it would cost to buy the items in Angel Food's $32 "Signature Box", said Borden. "The cost would have been around $70 at both stores. There is a real savings buying through Angel Food."
Because they believe they are helping people, local Angel Food Ministries volunteers are frustrated more people don't take advantage of the program.
"I wish more people knew about it," said Blair. "After we started, we built up to about 25 families a month but, recently, we've dropped down to eight to ten orders a month."
If there is a drawback to Angel Food, it is that you order and pay early in the month and get your food box about nine to eleven days later. That is a hard sacrifice for many low income families.
March menus should be out about February 17, the order deadline will be March 8 and pick up will be on March 19.
Blair and Boren both emphasize that, while Angel Food boxes are ideal for low income families and seniors, anyone, no matter their income, can get food through Angel Food Ministries.
"People sometimes tell me, 'I don't qualify, I make too much money,' said Boren. "No! Angel Food Ministries will serve anyone. It is easy to get information or order online."
The online address is: www.angelfoodministries.com.
In our area, Angel Food orders can be placed by contacting the Highland First Assembly of God on Meadowbrook Drive, the United Methodist Church on Otter Drive in Cherokee Village or Immanuel Baptist on Highway 9 South in Salem.
In addition, information and menus are available at Baker's Pharmacy on Highway 62-412 in Salem.
"We average about 50 food boxes a month between the three churches," said Destiny Boren. As host site, the Highland Assembly gets $1 per box ordered for use in its benevolence program.
Boren admits questioning whether volunteering for Angel Food Ministries was worth the trouble a while back when orders really dropped off. But she said an encounter with a regular participant changed her mind.
"A little old man came in to place an order. He could barely walk, but found a way to get here. That's when I decided, if I was going to get food for just that one man, it was worth it, and our orders have been going up since we decided to keep working."