published Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Cooper: Churches wading cautiously in replacing Angel Food Ministries

The call, said Janice Gallaher, came in early September. There would be no delivery of food boxes that month, the caller said. The supplier would be in touch.

Before the end of the month, she had to read the news in the Times Free Press. Angel Food Ministries had closed down. She never heard from the Monroe, Ga.-based nonprofit again.

Gallaher, who was the site coordinator for Elizabeth Lee United Methodist Church in Chickamauga, Ga., said the monthly program, in which people bought large boxes of food at a discount price, was an effective outreach for the congregation.

"After Angel Food stopped," she said, "we had a lot of people call the church office. They had kind of come to depend on it."

In October, though, Gallaher got a call from One Harvest Food Ministries, a nonprofit, nondenominational, faith-based organization based in Loganville, Ga.

It operates similarly to Angel Food Ministries in distributing boxes of food, according to the organization's website (www.one harvest.com), "by eliminating the middleman and partnering with local nonprofit organizations to implement food delivery."

On Saturday, Elizabeth Lee Church was to get its first order from One Harvest, Gallaher said. She said most boxes are ordered by members of the community who are not members of the church, but the congregation always orders extra so it can have food on hand to give those in immediate need.

While the Chickamauga church made the immediate transition to a new agency, other churches were taking their time.

New Life Bible Church of Cleveland, Tenn., had been a regional distribution site for Angel Food Ministries for more than 15 years and took deliveries until the organization shut down.

"We're not doing anything [about finding a new distributor]," said accounting secretary Mary Keith. "We want to step back and wait and see what happens with Angel Food."

However, she said the congregation had its own food pantry and would "do what we can" to fulfill individual needs.

Carrie Sandidge, assistant director of ministries at Christ United Methodist Church, said her congregation had not filled the void left by Angel Food Ministries either. She said they had been ordering 80 to 100 food boxes when the agency closed. Recently, she said, they have given out food vouchers for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank.

"We have not had a chance to look at it," she said. "But our volunteers really miss it. There were a lot of people we formed a relationship with. It was such a great ministry for us."

Brainerd United Methodist, Catoosa Baptist Association and Maple Grove Baptist are among other area church or parachurch ministries that used Angel Food Ministries until its demise.

Other than Elizabeth Lee United Methodist, the congregations closest to Chattanooga who are partners with One Harvest are Praise & Worship Family Outreach Center in Jasper, Tenn., and Chatsworth (Ga.) Church of God.

In 2009, according to Times Free Press archives, Angel Food Ministries was available in 38 states and distributed to 4,800 host sites. In its first 15 years, it had helped feed more than 20 million Americans.

But after it sent out its last order in August, it laid off its full-time staff of 90, put its headquarters building up for sale and was under investigation by the FBI for financial mismanagement, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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