This 'Angel Food' is a piece of cake
When the economic crisis started hitting hard last fall, Jeff Culver, the pastor at Detroit Lakes' Assembly of God church, was trying to find a way to help people get through the tough times.
The solution was getting involved with a national food-supply organization that sells name-brand food at a heavy discount.
Culver said he brought the idea of partnering with Angel Food Ministries to the church board in November, and their inaugural distribution was in April.
Now preparing for the second month, Culver said he expects the program to grow in the area as more people become aware of the benefits.
Angel Food Ministries offers "boxes" of food, enough to feed a family of four for a week, at wholesale prices.
There are no income qualifications to take part, and you don't have to be a member of Assembly of God.
In May, for example, the "Signature Box" features steaks, stuffing, pork chops, corn dogs, sweet corn, eggs, applesauce, and much more - most boxes average about 21 lbs. of food - for $30.
Culver said the items in the April "Signature Box" would have cost $62 - more than twice the price - at Wal-Mart.
Other standard boxes feature convenience meals for seniors, seafood, and allergen-free food.
When a standard box is purchased, you can also buy additional "special" boxes, with more assorted meats or fresh fruits and veggies, usually more than 10 pounds of food for around $20.
Unlike other food-discount programs, Angel Food doesn't provide "day-old" products or ones from off-brands that you've never heard of - it's General Mills, Birds Eye, and Tyson, to name a few.
"Everyone's been very pleased," he said. "My wife and I bought it and they had an incredible deal on oranges, and with two boys, they just inhaled those."
So how do they get it at such a lower price?
The program has taken out the profit, Culver said.
"We're not making any money on this," he said. "At Wal-Mart or wherever, you've got the food suppliers, the middle man, they've got to pay their employees and overhead."
Before Culver and his family moved to Minnesota more than four years ago, the lived on a tiny island off the coast of Alaska, well known for salmon.
Culver remembers, during his participation in preparing the salmon for sale, how much the fish sold for there, pennies on the pound, versus how much they're sold for in the grocery store - much more than what the fishermen get paid.
"Angel Food is the first supplier, they have their own trucking company, but this way you get the first level of profit instead of three or four, and we're able to pass on unbeatable saving and help people out," Culver explained.
Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo started the program, which operates in 35 states, in Monroe, Ga. in 1994.
The first distribution on their back porch fed 34 families. Now, Angel Food feeds 500,000 families nationwide every month.
Here in Detroit Lakes, Culver said the church advertised the program for five days and had 70 participants, only half of who were members of Assembly of God.
"I didn't want to do what everyone else is doing (to help the community)," Culver said. "We're still only one of the first churches in Minnesota to do this, it's just starting to catch on up here."
Culver said his passion is social justice, so finding a program that was "simple and practical" was important - and perfect for people that might "fall through the cracks" because they don't make enough to provide comfortably for their families, but make too much to qualify for most social help.
Since Angel Food has no qualifications, Culver said he doesn't care who takes advantage of the program, as long as it helps them, or someone else.
"I don't care if they make $1 million a month," he said, adding that some of the people that ordered boxes in April actually gave them away to people they knew who needed it.
Culver only asks that people prepay for the boxes. Those interested can sign up at Assembly of God church and pay with cash or money orders (they don't accept checks), but also online at www.dlaog.com, where they take most major credit cards and food stamps.
Once ordered, the deadline for May is the 17th at 1 p.m., the boxes are delivered to Assembly of God, where they are distributed on May 30 between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Culver suggests bringing a laundry basket to carry the food boxes home in.
"It's just an awesome way to help people out without any strings attached," he said. "It's something no one else is doing ... to be a blessing in this way."