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Angel food helps families make ends meet

July 26, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN -- Forgive Kim Selano for getting a little emotional. She has good reason.

A single mother raising two young children, Selano was hit last month with an increase in her rent, an unexpected medical bill and a reduction in her work hours.

She's become creative in making ends meet -- scrimping on everything from soap to electricity.

But she wonders how long she can stay afloat.

She has no savings as a safety net and, with her budget, no room for error.

"I know I'm not alone," the Hagerstown woman said. "But I really feel like I'm being squeezed. Groceries, gasoline, utilities -- I need a little help."

It might not have been the answer to all of her prayers, but Selano has found some relief through Angel Food Ministries.

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The Georgia-based program, which operates through a network of churches across the United States, sells food each month to participants who pay $30 for a package of groceries worth about $60.

Food items include steaks, chicken, Italian sausage, vegetables, fruits and eggs.

And the kicker? It's open to anyone, regardless of income.

The program came to Hagerstown last month, when Concordia Lutheran Church became a host site.

In June, more than 60 orders were taken, said the Rev. Jim Murr, pastor at Concordia. This month, about 160 orders were filled.

People who placed orders in July arrived at the church Saturday morning -- distribution day -- to pick up their food items and browse the menu for August.

"We're not offering seconds or damaged goods," Murr said. "The food items are exactly the same as you would find in a grocery store -- just a lot cheaper."

Angel Food Ministries is a nonprofit, nondenominational program that was founded in Monroe, Ga., in 1994. Originally intended to help local residents, the effort has grown to serve about 500,000 people in 35 states.

Concordia Lutheran Church became involved in the program as a way to establish more of a community presence, Murr said.

"The mission of Concordia is to make the love of Jesus real in the lives of all people," he said. "Angel Food Ministries is one of the ways we can do that."

While this only is the second month the church has hosted the program, Murr said he has had an opportunity to speak with some people who are very appreciative of the grocery relief it provides.

"We're hoping to establish relationships with people so we can get a better feel of their needs," he said. "In addition to help with food, as a church, we might be able to help in other areas."

How the program works

Dave Carroll, who co-chairs the program, said the Angel Food Ministries program is run, for the most part, like a food company.

Workers in Georgia buy the foods and ship them out to collection and distribution centers around the country.

Carroll said food ordered by Concordia Lutheran Church and other area host sites is delivered from Georgia to Frederick, Md. On distribution day, trucks from each church arrive at 5 a.m. to pick up their orders.

When Concordia's truck arrived back in Hagerstown, volunteers were on hand at the church to unload boxes and break down the packages into individual orders.

Carroll said Angel Food Ministries has host sites in nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But Concordia Lutheran Church is the only host site in Hagerstown. There also is a host site in Hancock.

"Personally, I would love to see at least a half-dozen churches become involved in this program," he said. "The need is there. There is a lot of potential for this type of program."

While the program reaches out to people who are financially strapped, Carroll said anyone can participate.

"You don't have to be in need to eat," he said.

The only thing required is that orders must be placed ahead of time. Forms are available at Concordia Lutheran Church, as well as the Community Action Council, Commission on Aging and area food banks, he said.

For $30, people receive a box filled with about 17 items from suppliers such as General Mills, ConAgra Foods and Schwan's Bakery. There are meats and frozen items, as well as fresh items. Monthly specials also are offered to those who make a purchase.

Carroll said payments can be made by cash, money order, certified check or food stamps. Payment is required at the time the order is placed.

'We're here to help'

Among those picking up their orders Saturday morning was Debbie Manzanares of Falling Waters, W.Va.

"I heard about this program from my landlady," she said. "I think this is a good thing for people who can't afford much groceries."

Manzanares said this was her first time participating in the program, but it wouldn't be her last.

"I have a family of three and this really helps," she said. "I wouldn't be able to buy food items like this at the store."

Murr said is hopeful the program will be a local success.

"We're meeting a need," he said. "We're hoping it continues to blossom and serve the community of Hagerstown."

"We're not just talking about it on Sunday morning," Carroll added. "We're here to help."

More information about the program, as well as area host sites, is available at www.angelfoodministries.com. Order forms can be requested by sending an e-mail to concordiased@verizon.net.

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