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SCV families find food for less

Food: Angel Food Ministries provides food and support for SCV families

Posted: May 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Volunteer Derek Todd, 16, carries a cartload of food to a recipient’s car.

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One Saturday morning each month, Valencia United Methodist Church is transformed into a warehouse supermarket.
In place of pews, long tables are laid out from end to end, where boxes of groceries are put together in an assembly-line fashion by volunteers. For just $31, there’s enough food in each box to help feed a family of four for a week.

The program is called Angel Food, run by the nonprofit Angel Food Ministries, and its mission is to provide food relief and financial support to communities throughout the United States.

For Jennifer Smith of Van Nuys, mother to Angelique, 6, and Maya, 5, Angel Food has been a godsend to help meet the family’s grocery budget.

“I’ve been coming for two years now. My husband’s not working, and I‘m the primary breadwinner,” Smith said. “I love it. The meats and dry products I get here would cost an arm and a leg in the store. If this wasn’t here, we’d be a lot worse off, food-wise.”

Valencia United Methodist Church has acted as an Angel Food Ministries satellite location since 2008 and has seen an increasing need for its services, according to Stuart Thompson, host-site director.

“It’s the times we live in. This is a tough economy,” he said. “When you break down a seven-meal box per meal, it’s about $4 a meal or a dollar per person. You can’t beat that. And this is quality food.”

Unlike some food pantries, at Angel Food, there are no proof-of-income requirements to meet, which brings a diverse clientele.

“It’s a real mix of people. We see people who are unemployed or underemployed, and I’ve also seen someone drive off in a Mercedes,” said volunteer Scott Norton, of Valencia.

“Sometimes, people think they shouldn’t use our service, that it should be used for those who are more needy than they are — but Angel Food is open to anyone who wants to save money on groceries.”

That could include his neighbors, as Norton illustrated. “People depend on two incomes in this area, so if either spouse loses a job, it can be a real struggle,” he said. “Gas prices also bump up the cost of living.”

Lori Nogales, of Newhall, fits the profile Norton described. Her husband had been laid off and was currently on worker’s compensation. She was at Angel Food for the first time after hearing about the program from a friend.

“I’m just looking for a cheaper way to get groceries. I wanted to check it out. If it really saves me time and money, I’ll be back,” Nogales said.

The process of becoming an Angel Food client is straightforward. Clients order food in advance online or through the church prior to the scheduled pick-up time.

In April, the family-of-four box included bags of fresh and frozen pre-cut vegetables, as well as frozen ground turkey, beef, ribs, chicken strips, pasta, eggs and even some chocolate chip cookie dough for dessert. Menu suggestions and recipes are included in every box.

A  la carte items, such as frozen steaks or seafood, can be added to the order for an additional fee of up to $20.

“The steaks and chicken are amazing; we’re talking USDA choice, restaurant-quality meat,” Thompson said.
Holiday boxes are also available on a seasonal basis; an Easter box included a roasting hen, a pork roast, stuffing, twice-baked potatoes, gravy mix, rolls and pie for $35.

Distribution starts at 10 a.m., though volunteers such as Sue Sebel of Valencia and her son Scott, 15, arrive at least an hour earlier to set up.

In addition to the food-distribution tables, there is a hospitality area, where muffins, pastries, fruit and juices are available for clients and volunteers.

Round tables with seating for up to eight accommodate clients who want to take a break or enjoy a continental breakfast, while a free children’s book table attracts young readers. On this Saturday, Angelique happily selected an illustrated story to share with her little sister.

Sebel, who manned the hospitality suite, watched the scene with a smile. She always enjoys the Saturday distribution days.

“I think everyone can make a difference, even in small ways,” she said.

Scott, a freshman at Valencia High School, assists clients by delivering boxes via a dolly to their vehicles.

“I love it. It gives me a sense of helping people and really opens my eyes to what’s going on out there,” he said. “When you see the little kids, it makes you feel bad, but I feel better to be able to help them.”

Angel Food Ministries was founded by pastors Joe and Linda Wingo in 1994 after they watched families in their native Monroe, Ga., suffer financially following the closing of industrial plants in the area.

Starting from their back porch, the Wingos fed 34 families.

Over the next several years, other churches wanted to get involved, and Angel Food began feeding hundreds of families across the Southeast. Now, Angel Food feeds more than 500,000 families a month in 35 states.

That number includes Michael MacLaughlin, of Canyon Country, a retired tire-distribution manager who found out about the Angel Food program from his daughter.

“I’m on a fixed income, so the food helps me subsidize my dinners. I need to stay in shape and eat right,” MacLaughlin said as Scott helped deliver groceries to his car. “These are nice people, too.”

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