Angel Food Ministries is closing down after 17 years of providing discounted groceries to people across the nation, including many in the Tri-State area.
The multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization said it will cease operation immediately, according to a statement provided to The Associated Press.
Angel Food was started in 1994 by pastors Joe and Linda Wingo with 34 families in Monroe, Ga. At its height, the organization grew through a network of churches to feed more than 500,000 families a month in 45 states, the AP reported.
In a written statement posted on its website, Angel Food acknowledged the pressure that closing places on its customers and said there is a group of former employees and food vendors working to find a way to serve those who had come to depend on the ministry.
Individuals could order boxes of food through the ministry at discounted prices, some as much as half the price of retail, depending on the food ordered, said Brooke Althouse, director of the Quincy (Pa.) United Methodist Church site.
Each month, the food would be distributed to the host sites where individuals could pick up their orders, Althouse said.
Initially, Angel Food told his site that it was closing down only in September, he said.
"The last I knew, it was starting up again in October," Althouse said. Knowing it now won't reopen, he said: "It's a sad day, from the standpoint of serving our community."
Althouse said the Quincy site would serve about 10 to 20 individuals each month.
The Rev. Emil Gretarsson, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, said hundreds of Angel Food boxes a month have been distributed from his church.
Angel Food Ministries cited the economic downturn as the reason for decision, the AP said.
The organization ran into trouble in 2009 when the FBI searched its offices.
Joe Wingo's reported salary in 2009 was more than $694,000, according to the AP.
Gretarsson said he knew of concerns surrounding the nonprofit, yet in Hagerstown, his church didn't see red flags, but rather the positive community impact of the ministry.
Both Gretarsson and Althouse noted that orders were declining recently.
Payment was required at the time of ordering from Angel Food, a challenge for some individuals, because it meant putting $40 or $50 down for a box of food that would not arrive for at least a week, Gretarsson said.
"We had a saying, 'If you eat, you're eligible,'" Althouse said. "But we had kind of a feeling that a lot of people were too proud to use it (the ministry)."
While Angel Food Ministries offered discounted food, it was open to everyone.
As part of its ministry, Angel Food donated $1 to the host site for every box of food sold, Gretarsson said.
At Concordia, that money went toward buying boxes of food for families at Christmas and purchasing equipment for moving the boxes, Gretarsson said.
Now that Angel Food has stopped operating, Gretarsson said he would be interested in knowing if there is a desire to continue a similar service locally.
"If someone can help coordinate an effort to meet this need in our community, Concordia Lutheran Church will definitely be interested in supporting it," he wrote in an email.
The Self Help and Resource Exchange, or SHARE, Food Network is a similar program that is organized through churches and community groups and is open to anyone.
The SHARE network distributes food packages worth $40 to $45 to participants who pay $20 and perform two hours of volunteer service, according to its website www.sharedc.org.