There is a way local churches can help feed those in need without emptying the collection plate.
Itâ€™s called Angel Food Ministries, and one Lincolnton church has gotten involved with the Georgia-based program.
â€œWe started in August of last year with two people,â€ said Jerry Thompson, a deacon at Oak Grove Baptist Church on Startown Road.
His daughter Teresa Lunsford is the programâ€™s administrator at Oak Grove and Thompson acts as director.
Itâ€™s a simple ministry thatâ€™s helping solve an often complicated problem: hunger.
The brainchild of Joe and Linda Wingo of Emmanuel Praise Church in Good Hope, Ga., Angel Food Ministries is a bit different than other programs like food stamps or Christian Ministry for which people must qualify for assistance.
Everyone qualifies through Angel Food Ministries.
But the help they provide is also not quite free of charge.
Each month, the group issues a different menu consisting of enough food to last one person one month. The food is restaurant quality and menu items run the gamut from fresh and frozen vegetables to chicken and eggs.
The menu packages are valued at $48 to $78 depending on what is included.
The cost to those who take advantage of the program: $25.
In addition, individuals can choose to purchase additional food from specials that are offered each month. The specials often include extra meat to help families make it through the month.
In fact, Thompson says one menu plus all four specials will feed a family of four for a whole month, depending on eating habits.
Even if a family were to go that route, purchasing the menu and all four specials, the cost would still be less than what they would spend at the grocery store.
For Thompson, itâ€™s a way to reach out to people in a very practical way.
â€œThatâ€™s where my heartâ€™s been â€“ to help people as much as I can,â€ he said. â€œThis is a ministry where we can help people stretch their money.â€
The program first came to Oak Grove by way of its sister church, Hildebran Methodist in Hildebran, but it is a nationwide ministry with participation from many North Carolina churches.
Oak Grove and Boger City Wesleyan are the only churches in Lincolnton currently involved with Angel Food Ministries.
As of now, people from Oak Grove pick up the food at a church in Mountain View. But Thompson says if they can get more local churches involved and sell 450 menus a month, it would be possible to set up a delivery point in Lincolnton.
Pick-up is a simple process. The food arrives in bulk and church members (all volunteers) assemble it into boxes.
People must come to the church to place their orders and they must pay up front. Only cash is accepted during the week, but food stamps are taken on Saturdays.
Then, on a designated date, people can come to Oak Grove â€“ box or laundry basket in hand â€“ and collect their food. There is also delivery available for those who are elderly or disabled.
Last month, Thompson says 54 people took advantage of the program through Oak Grove, a number he is hoping will grow rapidly if more churches get involved.
Thompson acknowledges that many local families may be in a financial crunch due to recent plant closings in the area. He envisions Angel Food Ministries as a means for those folks to feed their families quality, nutritious food for a relatively small price.
He also points out the benefit to older people who live on fixed incomes.
Itâ€™s all about helping this community.
â€œWe feed the rest of the world,â€ said Thompson. â€œRight here in Lincoln County, we have people who need to be fed, too.â€
Thompson is passionate about Angel Food Ministries and plans to become even more involved soon.
â€œIâ€™m retiring at the end of the year and Iâ€™m going to pursue this further,â€ he said.
Just as Thompson wants to get more involved with the ministry, he hopes area churches will want to do the same.
He is quick to point out that the program is nondenominational and that it actually benefits churches financially, as $1 out of the $25 cost of each menu goes into the host site churchâ€™s benevolence fund.
Itâ€™s a win-win for churches and the community.
At Oak Grove, the number of volunteers has grown to over 40.
Of course, more volunteers are always welcome. Thompson would also like to have as many churches as possible involved so that as many people as possible can be fed.
He says the response heâ€™s heard from those whoâ€™ve used the program has been overwhelmingly positive.
â€œThe feedback weâ€™ve been getting is that people think the food is fantastic,â€ said Thompson.
If Thompsonâ€™s attitude is any indication, it seems the volunteers are equally happy about being able to help get that food to people in the community.
â€œIâ€™ve been excited ever since Iâ€™ve been involved,â€ Thompson said. â€œI just want more people to become involved.â€
To that end, Thompson says he will be glad to share an informational DVD with anyone interested. He says he would be willing to come and explain the program to any church in the area.
Think Angel Food Ministries might be a good fit for your church? Visit the website at www.angelfoodministries.com or email inquires to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also direct questions to the people of Oak Grove Baptist Church by calling (704) 735-9069.
by Allyson Levine