By Elizabeth Libby Smoot -- firstname.lastname@example.org
People who have never before pinched pennies, clipped coupons or worked so hard to save a dollar are taking advantage of discount food programs that have no income requirements.
As part of their outreach efforts, a number of local churches serve as distribution points for three food programs that are growing as more and more people find their budgets in distress.
Unlike food banks and food pantries that help people partly based on need and income level, the Great Food For All program, Angel Food Ministries and SHARE Food Network allow food to be purchased by anyone.
Some people taking advantage of these programs are looking for creative ways to cut their budget in this economic downturn. Others need it to survive.
Pastor Brad Selan, of Windhaven Church in Mt. Jackson, said the Brethren church began its partnership with Angel Food Ministries a year ago as a way to fulfill the church's mission to minister to its community. "Everyone is feeling the pinch," he said. "We knew this would reach a cross section of the population. Doctors and lawyers stand in line with those with no education higher than middle school."
Theresa Horn coordinates the Great Food For All program at Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Stephenson, which gave out 65 boxes of food to 22 families at its monthly distribution earlier this month. The church first worked with Angel Food more than a year ago before switching programs in April.
"The economy was struggling, people were struggling. We wanted to be able to help," Horn said. "It's not a handout, it's a hand up."
The food provided by these programs varies each month. People place and pay for their orders a few weeks before the distribution day. Food stamps are eligible to be used. Volunteers at the churches pick up the boxes at a drop-off point on the morning of the distribution. Emmanuel volunteers pick up their boxes at a church in Charles Town, W.Va.
The Great Food For All program offers several food options. The basic box, which feeds a family of four for about a week or a single person for a month, contains $60 to $80 worth of food for $30. Boxes designed for seniors, empty-nesters and children are among other choices that arrive pre-packed and frozen.
In September, people who purchased the basic box received meatloaf, chicken breast, pork or sausage, ground beef, fruit, broccoli, green beans, french toast sticks, french fries, cereal bars and dessert. Also available were an empty-nesters box for $20; a box of seven heat-and-serve meals created for seniors for $28; a children's box with popcorn chicken bites, fries, taco meat and cookies for $14; and a $38 steak box containing 5 pounds of aged New York strips. A box containing various pastas, a stuffed-chicken box, seafood box, chicken box, fresh produce box, and breakfast box rounded out the selections.
On distribution day, eight Emmanuel United Methodist volunteers greet people at the door, check their orders and cart the boxes out to their cars. Pastor Jim Smith said "it's like Christmas" watching families open their boxes of food.
"This is a mission," said volunteer Patty Kuhn. "It saves people money they could use in other places."
Kevin L. Walker, of Winchester, began ordering food through the program two months ago. In September, he purchased two basic boxes, two pasta boxes, a chicken box, steak box and fresh produce box -- a $183 investment that he figures will last him and his wife all month. It takes some planning to know what to order and budget for, Walker said, but "times are tough. You have to use your head. It's a very good deal."
Great Food For All was founded by four friends in Ohio in June 2008. Food is purchased in bulk and distributed at 350 sites across the country. Shawn Price, a founding partner, said the program is growing by 20 percent to 25 percent each month.
"I feel really honored to be able to work with groups of people who have such a heart for their communities," she said.
Pam Parker feeds her family of five, including three teenagers, through the food program and plans to take advantage of it more now that she's returning to school. The program helps relieve her of running from store to store in search of the lowest prices, time she doesn't have anymore.
"When I buy this food, I can stay within my budget. All I have to do is place an order and pick it up," said the Winchester woman. The pre-packed meals also make dinnertime easy. "If you're a working mom, these are all planned out and they're easy things teens can cook."
Loretta Winchester, of Cross Junction, purchased four boxes of food this month. She says the discounted food serves her well on a retirement income that has been challenged by recent medical bills.
"We accrued a huge financial debt on our credit cards for medical reasons," she said. "You can get the food for far less than you can buy it."
Destiny Christian Center in Front Royal is the only local church that participates in the SHARE Food Network. The regional program serves 360 organizations, said Deborah Smith, community developer for Virginia and southern Maryland. The program is different from the other two in that it requires some sweat equity. Participants are required to perform two hours of volunteer service and pay $20 to purchase about $40 worth of groceries.
Ron Mitchell has coordinated the food program at Destiny for four years. The church distributes about 75 to 125 packages a month. Most of the people who purchase food through this program aren't using the food themselves; they are giving it to those in need.
"The people working with this program are getting a lot out of it," Mitchell said. "As we go through life, we get beat down by life's circumstances. To see people spring back from that, I don't know if there's a greater joy."
Mt. Jackson's Windhaven Church participates in the Angel Food Ministries program, which began in 1994 with 34 families in Monroe, Ga. The program serves hundreds of thousands in 35 states. Food is available in a medium-sized box for $30, about half the retail value.
Last month, volunteers at Windhaven distributed 146 boxes to 100 families. Pastor Selan said his volunteers purposely wait to box up the food until the families arrive, giving them an opportunity to minister.
"We believe a church is not created for its members; it's for its community," he said. "Families are asset rich and cash poor. You could be making a half a million a year, but can barely sustain yourself. [Angel Food] provides such a lifeblood to the community."
Distribution Locations for Food Programs
Great Food For All
- Emmanuel United Methodist Church
2732 Martinsburg Pike Stephenson, VA 22656 | 662-5946 | myfoodbox.org | email@example.com
- Abundant Life Church
700 Aylor Road Stephens City, VA 22655 | 869-7442 | myabundantlife.com
- Berryville Baptist Church
114 Academy St. Berryville, VA 22611 | 955-1423 | www.berryvillebaptist.org
Angel Food Ministries
- Windhaven Church
3606 Turkey Knob Road Mt. Jackson, VA 22842 | 477-2765 | windhavenchurch.com
- Agape Christian Church
345 Tasker Road Stephens City, VA 22655 | 869-6070 | www.agapeva.com
- First Christian Church
75 Merrimans Lane Winchester VA 22601 | 662-1736 | firstchristianwinchester.org
- Impact Christian Center
134 N. Loudoun St. Winchester VA 22601 | 545-8588 | www.impact-cc.org
SHARE Food Network
- Destiny Christian Center
72 N. Lake Ave. Front Royal, VA 22630 | 764-2735