Ministry helps families put food on the table
As families gather around the dinner table to give thanks this week, many will be thanking a local ministry for the very food before them.
Several hundred families came through the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Huntersville Saturday morning to pick up a bargain basket of food through the churchﾒs Angel Food ministry.
In some cases, the families did not come to Huntersville themselves. Six partner churches in the area also pick up food for their parishioners, delivering it on the drive back or distributing it the next day.
In all, 408 families were served this month by the ministry, which is quickly becoming a local institution since it began in February and is a mainstay of First Baptistﾒs many outreach programs.
Pastor Jerry Moore, wearing a navy blue seafarerﾒs cap emblazoned with the word ﾓCaptain,ﾔ heads up a group of 35-40 volunteers who lend their time and energy picking up the food from a distribution point in Spencer and doling out the orders to families from all over the county.
ﾓThis is the best fellowship this church has,ﾔ said Moore. ﾠﾓTheyﾒre working together, perhaps seeing people they havenﾒt seen in a month. Itﾒs like a big reunion, and we eat all day long, like Baptists do.ﾔ
A handful of women in the fellowship hallﾒs kitchen provide the volunteers with refreshments throughout the morning and into the afternoon.
But the food the volunteers put in the familiesﾒ baskets is the real story.
Angel Food Ministries maintains a gigantic warehouse in Monroe, Georgia. In operation for 11 years as a nonprofit Christian organization, the program buys food through a federal subsidy.
The ministry began in February of 1994, feeding 34 families. Since then, the program has grown by leaps and bounds. This month, the ministry served half a million families in 32 states.
Because of the assistance it receives from the federal government and the sheer amount of food ordered, the ministry offers an impressive menu at low cost.
ﾓThis is $65 worth of food, for $25,ﾔ said Moore. ﾓThatﾒs $65 at Wal-Mart prices.ﾔ
ﾓItﾒs restaurant quality food,ﾔ Moore continued. ﾓItﾒs not out of date; thereﾒs no seconds, no dented cans. Itﾒs Tyson chicken, Hunts tomato sauceﾗbrands that we know: Kraft, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury.ﾔ
Menus come out around the end of each month. A week or so later, orders and payment are due. In another couple weeks, Moore receives a phone call letting him know when to pick up the food. Food is usually picked up on a Friday and distributed the next day.
ﾓThe only drop point in West Virginia right now is Spencer,ﾔ Moore said. ﾓItﾒs centrally located in the state, but itﾒs a three-and-a-half hour trip for us.ﾔ
Moore and a crew of 10 volunteers take two vehicles with trailers. One trailer is refrigerated; the other carries the dry goods.
Between the drive and loading all the food, it easily becomes a 12-hour day for the volunteers.
The next morning, partner churches pick up their orders between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. Individual orders are picked up between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
A sort of assembly line is set up in the churchﾒs fellowship hall. Tables are set up end-to-end in the hall. Families come in with boxes or laundry baskets and are followed by a volunteer who checks off each item in a familyﾒs order as it is picked up from each of the 17 stations.
The atmosphere in the fellowship hall is boisterous. Families happy to be getting such a bargain on foodstuffs are greeted by smiling volunteers, eager to share a kind word as they put their respective itemsﾗsteaks, apple pies, biscuit mixﾗin familiesﾒ baskets.
ﾓItﾒs not just for needy families,ﾔ said volunteer Patrick Law. ﾓAnybody can put in an order. Itﾒs a lot of food for not a lot of money.ﾔ
But for families who need to make every penny count, the ministry can help relieve some financial pressure.
Missy Riffe, of New Life in Christ, in Durbin, said she has personally seen the good the ministry has done for some families. Hers is one of the six partner churches that picks up orders in Huntersville to distribute to its own parishioners.
ﾓWe have 16 families that we deliver to,ﾔ Riffe said. ﾓIt really helps them out.ﾔ
Once volunteers finish loading her car, Riffe said she delivers the food to families as she drives from Huntersville to Durbin.
ﾓPeople on fixed incomes love this, because they can use their food stamps,ﾔ said Moore. ﾓThereﾒs enough food here to feed two people for a month. It helps people free up some money for their fuel bills or medicine bills.ﾔ
Moore said that some people who are now participating in the program once ate only one meal a day and had no meat during heating seasonﾗfrom October until April.
ﾓTheyﾒve gotten on this program, and now theyﾒre eating two meals a day and meat with every meal,ﾔ ﾠsaid Moore.
Extra items are often available during the monthly food distribution as well. On Saturday, volunteers were giving out 161 brand-new coats for children, courtesy of Maryland-based ministry Tender Loving Care.
That ministry also provides Huntersville Baptist with clothes for children at Christmas, Easter, and just before the start of school, said Moore.
In the case of the coats, families were able to specify what sizes they needed for their children, said volunteer Madora Smith, who coordinated Saturdayﾒs coat distribution.
While countless volunteer hours go into each monthﾒs efforts, volunteer Louise Barnisky said Angel Food and the clothing ministry are getting some additional help.
ﾓYou know whoﾒs doing this? The good Lord,ﾔ she said. ﾓHeﾒs taking care of us.ﾔ
Perhaps moved by the spirit, or maybe by the scene unfolding in First Baptistﾒs fellowship hall, a gentleman gave Barnisky a surprise Saturday morning.
ﾓI just had a man give me a check for $100 and tell me, ﾑGo buy some Angel Food for the people,ﾒﾔ she said.