Thoughts on Angel Food Ministries

Over the last few weeks, quite a few readers have written to me asking about Angel Food Ministries. I’ve been very hesitant to discuss Angel Food Ministries on The Simple Dollar for a handful of reasons, but this is clearly a topic that many readers are interested in hearing about, so I’ll do my best to navigate this minefield (meaning, I’m pretty sure I’m going to say something that’s going to set someone off, though I’m not intending to). I should also point out that I have a bit of experience in the past with Angel Food Ministries on the ground – I’m personally aware of the type of items that they distribute.

What Is Angel Food Ministries?

Angel Food Ministries is a non-profit group that distributes low-cost food options in many communities (a typical basic box from Angel Food Ministries costs $30 and has approximately $55 worth of groceries in the box).

Most of the funding and organizational structure of Angel Food Ministries is handled through evangelical Christian churches in the United States. Many churches serve as distribution centers in local communities, and each box contains a leaflet that outlines some of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

What’s in the Box?

The May 2009 menu provides a clear example of what a box from Angel Food Ministries will provide:

.5 lb. Lean Chopped Beef Steaks (5 x 8 oz.)
5 lb. Leg Quarters
2 lb. Chicken and Corn Bread Stuffing Casserole (Ready to Cook)
28 oz. Salisbury Steak Dinner Entrée
1 lb. Boneless Pork Chops (4 x 4 oz.)
1 lb. Corn Dogs (6 ct.)
12 oz. Deli Sliced Ham
5 oz. Chunk Light Tuna in Water
32 oz. French Fries
1 lb. Sweet Corn
15 oz. Musselman’s Apple Sauce
15 oz. Pears (Product of U.S.A.)
8 oz. Dinner Roll Mix (Makes 8 Nice Rolls)
7.5 oz. Mac ’n Cheese
32 oz. 2% Shelf Stable Milk
Dozen Eggs

This box is available for $30.

At first glance, this is a pretty good deal, and if your primary concern is getting food on the table at a very low price, this is likely a great option for you.

However, if you dig a little deeper, some of these options may not be the best value for your dollar. For example, I would be hesitant to feed several of the options on that list to my children on any sort of consistent basis, at least not without some careful inspection of the actual nutrition facts and ingredients of those items (the corn dogs, the “dessert” item which is often something like Twinkies or Moon Pies, etc.) Under that perspective, though, if I were to get the box, then throw out a third of the items, I might as well simply go to the grocery store at my own convenience and choose the exact items I want for my $30. Other writers have come to largely the same conclusion – it’s a value on the surface, but the quality of items may not be up to many personal standards.

Some would argue that I am somewhat looking a gift horse in the mouth here, and I agree that I am. From my perspective, this box is one option for spending $30 in food for my family. Depending on your financial situation and your food priorities, this can be a great bargain. It mostly depends on the type of value you’re seeking.

What Angel Food Ministries Does Right

One area where Angel Food Ministries hits a home run, in my opinion, is with some of their optional packages. You can choose an optional package as an addition to the basic package, as listed above. For example, one of their optional packages for May 2009 is the “Fresh Fruit and Veggie Package”:

1 head Premium Fresh California Iceberg Lettuce
1 head Premium Fresh California Romaine Lettuce
1 5 oz. Package Fresh Gourmet Classic Caesar Croutons
1 Package Wiley’s Citrus Garlic Salad Seasoning
1 lb. California Cello-Pack Carrots
2 each Premium Jumbo Vidalia Sweet Onions
1 each Premium Jumbo Red Onion
1 6 oz. Bag Premium Fresh Florida Red Radishes
1 head Premium Fresh Green Cabbage
3 lb. Premium Idaho Baking Potatoes
3 lb. Premium Tree-Ripened Valencia Oranges
3 lb. Premium Washington State Red Delicious Apples
1 each Premium Large Vine Ripened Honeydew Melon
AFM May 2009 Fruit and Veggie Recipe Sheet

For $22, that’s a very strong deal, especially if you want to get fresh produce on the table and you’re struggling to make ends meet.

Another strong advantage of Angel Food Ministries is that they often distribute in central community locations (like churches) that are quite accessible for many families that may not have access to transportation to get to the grocery store. Using a church as a distribution center means that the distribution often occurs in the middle of a residential area, making it easier for many people to access the food – particularly those who need it the most.

Is It Right To Use This Service?

In terms of using this service, my biggest question is whether it’s a justifiable option. Quite obviously, this service is trying to target lower-income families who can really use the savings provided by the options made available through the ministry.

The question is whether or not it’s ethical – or socially appropriate – for a person with a higher income level who is simply trying to maximize every cent to take advantage of this service.

On the one hand, the service makes it clear that it’s intended for everyone. There are no requirements at all for people to take part in receiving food from Angel Food Ministries, and they claim that there is plenty of food to go around.

On the other hand, if you’re in a situation where you have a reasonably large monthly food budget, why would you choose to use this service? If you are making it your goal to feed yourself and your family a well-rounded, high quality diet, many of the options in the basic box from Angel Food Ministries probably do not fit the bill, making it much less of a savings for you.

Thus, I think the question really comes down to your own personal food choices. If you are in a tight financial place and the goal is to get sanitary and diverse food options on the table at the lowest cost possible for your family, Angel Food Ministries is where you should go – and you’re exactly the type of person the service was designed for. On the other hand, if you have enough of a food budget that you can make detailed conscious choices about what goes on your table and what does not, you’re likely better off going to the grocery store and the farmer’s market – which, again, is appropriate.

In other words, Angel Food Ministries somewhat self-regulates – if this is a good deal for your life situation, they’re ready and willing to help. For me, though, I’ll stick with my own meal planning, which gives me much more control over what goes on my table (albeit at a higher price – a price I’m willing to pay).

Angel Food Ministries as a Charity

As you can see, in large part, I support the work that Angel Food Ministries does on the ground in getting low cost foods to people who really need them. In fact, I had considered donating to Angel Food Ministries in the past – and, as I’ve mentioned before, that means I sat down to research how the charity itself worked. What I found sent up a few pretty big red flags for me:

1.The charity is not listed with Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator is an impartial service that evaluates charities in terms of how they manage themselves internally and how much of their revenue actually goes towards charitable work. This is a basic step that many charities of any size take on – it’s the honest way to conduct a charity.

2. The charity is being investigated by the FBI

The reasons for the investigations are not being made clear by either the charity or the FBI

Here’s some details on the investigation.

3. MinistryWatch issues a “donor watch” for Angel Food Ministries

Ministry Watch, a watchdog group for Christian-affiliated charities, stating the following:

Angel Food Ministries is marketing to help individuals that are on the low economic side of the scale and in “need”; however, the leadership for the organization has higher salaries than the norm. In addition, the higher salaries consist of the leadership of individuals that are related. This is just for the known year of 2006, it is unknown of the more current years.

1. Wesley J. Wingo: $588,529
2. Linda Wingo: $544,043
3. Andrew Wingo: $529,014
4. Wesley Wingo: $454,673
5. L.M. Wingo: $384,694

Let alone the fact that these five people are related, the individual salaries are above and beyond what charities typically pay their employees, even large charities at the highest management levels.

Obviously, these discoveries are much more of interest to people who are considering donating to Angel Food Ministries. This should in no way prevent you from using Angel Food Ministries in your community.

My Final Take

On the ground, Angel Food Ministries provides a good service that many people really need – a lot of food at a very reasonable price at the expense of flexibility. For someone in a poor financial situation, Angel Food Ministries can really be a godsend.

However, as a broader charity, I would not donate to Angel Food Ministries when there are many highly ethical charities out there to contribute time and effort to. In many larger cities, there are local versions of Angel Food Ministries that you can donate to or be involved with – just ask around in your own community.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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