Thursday, April 17, 2014
BY DENNIS HOEY
The Portland Press Herald
Several churches in Maine are struggling to find a way to provide discounted food boxes to needy families and individuals, who had grown to rely on a Georgia-based supplier that went out business two months ago.
"There is a huge void all over the country," said Portland resident Charles Wynott, a Social Security and food stamp recipient, who relied on the program for monthly supplies of low-cost food that he used to supplement his food budget. "Every little bit helped."
Angel Food Ministries shut down its food distribution operations in September without warning. It served thousands of people in 45 states, including Maine. At one time, Angel Food Ministries had 15 food distribution points in Maine, stretching from York, Biddeford and Portland to as far north as Rockland, Bridgton and Waterville.
Their food boxes were priced significantly below their retail value, giving a financial boost to those individuals and families struggling to feed their families in a down economy.
Media reports said the nonprofit organization blamed its closure on the state of the economy as well as increased costs for food, fuel and operations.
Under the program, a family of four could buy a box of food for $35. A single box contained enough freshly frozen meat, vegetables, and fruit to feed them for a week. That same box would be large enough to feed a single individual for a month. The box's retail value was $65.
Richard Harmon coordinated the distribution of food boxes at the Park Avenue Church of God in Portland.
During the program's peak, more than 200 food boxes were being distributed each month at Park Avenue.
"The need is still there," Harmon adds.
One of the hardest hit communities was Chebeague Island. Linda Brewster is pastor of the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church.
Brewster said about a dozen elderly poeple and families who live on Chebeague Island relied on Angel Food Ministries.
Brewster said she and her husband, who live on the mainland, picked up the food boxes from the Park Avenue Church of God and delivered the shipment to the ferry where church volunteers would take it to Chebeague and deliver the boxes to those who had ordered them.
Brewster said she is working on a possible solution that could involve the sale of food boxes through her church at roughly the same price.
The Westbrook Warren Congregational Church finds itself in the same predicament where 30 families had availed themselves of the program.
"It's really bad," said Betty Young, a church member, who coordinated Angel Food Ministries program for the church.
"A lot of people have called me. They want to know what we are going to do. I have to tell them there is not very much we can do," Young said.
Harmon said he may have found a solution. One Harvest Food Ministry, a nonprofit food distribution organization based in Georgia, has told him they may be able to provide a service similar to Angel Food in Maine but not until next year.
Harmon said in a bad economy where many families are struggling to put food on the table, something needs to be done.
"They call it (the food boxes) a lift up, not a hand out for people who are struggling," he said.