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Groceries at a deep discount during this tough economy

Filling boxes for Angel Food Ministries. hspace=4
Filling boxes for Angel Food Ministries. hspace=4

At Nations Ford Community Church in Southwest Charlotte, volunteers stock groceries in a not so traditional way. There are no shelves here. These men are filling cardboard boxes. Deacon Thomas Waters ticks off this month's menu. He says, "For this month you have pork chops, frozen carrots, frozen string beans" Waters is in charge of the local Angel Food program. "We're able not just to give people a handout but actually a hand-up. Because people want to feel good about purchasing something so you're not just giving it away, you're giving them an opportunity to buy groceries at the low cost," says Waters. For $30 anyone can buy meat and sides good for a week for a family of four. An order can last for nearly a month for a single person. And we're not talking ground beef. These are New York strip steaks, rib eye steaks, Chicken cordon bleu, etc. Volunteers and customers say it's high quality. Angel Food Ministries keeps costs down with the help of more than 45,000 volunteers and buying in huge volume from longstanding vendors such as Con-Agra, Pilgrim's Pride and Dole Foods. Groups in 37 states participate. On this food delivery day, Waters has to rush off for a job interview. He's an out of work mortgage banker. He says, "When you're going through something personally, you don't worry about your own issues when you help somebody else." The program is based in Monroe, Georgia an area that was hit hard by mill closings. After the last mill closed in 1994, local Pastor Joseph Wingo and his wife offered free groceries to the community. But Angel Food spokesman Doug Metcalfe says just 34 of a possible 500 families took advantage. He says, "A lot of people said, 'We don't take handouts, we provide for our families.' From that one statement he heard over and over again, Angel Food was born. He realized if we provide food at a great savings, people that truly need it will come and get it, because it's a pride issue." The "pride issue" comes up a few times during the visit to Nations Ford Community Church. Volunteer Ken Willins, also a deacon at the church, sees it often. Willins says, "I think to some people there's always the stigma of something discount. Or- 'I don't need it.' People may feel that they don't need any kind of assistance or help. But it's not so much the help, it's the value you're getting for $30, for your dollar." Willins orders Angel Food sometimes and knows about making the dollar stretch. He recently lost his job as a building surveyor after work for the big banks dried up. Angel Food customer David Lineberger also lost his job thanks to the turmoil in the banking industry. The software developer almost lost his South Charlotte home to foreclosure. A housing counselor told him to try Angel Food to lower monthly expenses. Lineberger says his first order was a big help. "I've never done anything like this before, so you know, it took a little hit to my pride to do it But every penny counted, so it didn't matter if I was eating crackers and soup, that's what I would be eating in order to try to save my house," he says. This month, Lineberger is in line for his second box. Host churches also order boxes to give away to people who can't afford to pay. Not everyone picking up food is down and out. A Lexus, a Jaguar and a BMW pull up to the site. Angel Food's Doug Metcalfe says if you eat, you qualify. He explains, "The more food we sell, the better food we can get and the better price we can get it at. So we welcome people from all walks of life to come and purchase Angel Food because we don't know what situation anybody's going through." He says at the beginning of the year Angel Food sold an average of 300-thousand boxes a month, nationally. These days orders top 500-thousand.