Cheap groceries for all

Billie Owens

Shirley Wentz lives in Palmyra and found out about Angel Food Ministries from her hairdresser. And what wasn’t there to like about it?

People of all means — or lack of means — sign up to receive a box of “restaurant-grade” food and pay $30 in advance for a month’s supply. No seconds, no day-old stuff. All foods meet or exceed government standards. There’s no application process, no qualifications. No kidding.

Wentz was so impressed, she decided to volunteer.  The local Angel Food Ministries is hosted by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Farmington, at 153 Church Ave.

St. John’s is a newcomer to the nonprofit, nondenominational Christian program: January marks its fourth month of participation. The only other church host in Ontario County is New Hope Fellowship in Bloomfield, at 7466 Routes 5 and 20. 

Angel Food Ministries started in a small church in Monroe, Ga., in 1994 and since has spread to 35 states and 3,200 communities to serve 500,000 families monthly.

There are no qualifications to receive food. Recipients can be wealthy or not; they can pay with food stamps, cash or check, according to Brenda Cunningham, who helps coordinate the program at St. John’s, along with Debbie Torlish.

“If you eat, you qualify to buy the food,” said Sue Habberfield, who is on the board of outreach and ministries at the church and is an Angel Food volunteer.

Habberfield, Wentz, Cunningham and Torlish like helping people and providing them with something beneficial.

“It is an ecumenical ministry, so they tie in the Christian aspect by including a newsletter in the basket that talks about the program and the message of the word of God,” Habberfield said. “I think the goal is to be God’s servants.”

Orders are processed at the national headquarters in Georgia. On the appointed day, they arrive by truck to this area’s distribution center, the Victory Baptist Church in Henrietta.

Volunteers at St. John’s in Farmington pick up the food, then divvy it up for families. That always happens on a Saturday, usually from 9 to 10 a.m. The registration deadline is a few weeks in advance. (This month, the deadline was Thursday). The participants show up with their receipt and a large box and pick up their portion of goods.

The foods include flash-frozen fresh meats and vegetables, frozen dinners, fresh fruits and brand-name goods from the likes of Kraft, Jolly Green Giant and Banquet. There’s also an unspecified dessert item.

The items in the baskets vary from month to month.

Here’s January’s lineup: 1.25 pounds of bacon-wrapped beef fillets; 4 pounds frozen chicken-leg quarters; 2 pounds lean hamburger; 1.5 pounds boneless pork; 20 ounces frozen pizza; 10 ounces deli-sliced turkey breast; 3 pounds fresh apples; 35 ounces crinkle-cut French fries; 16 ounces frozen green beans; 16 ounces frozen onion rings; 14 ounces ketchup; 26 ounces pasta sauce; 16 ounces pasta; 16 ounces pinto beans; 7.5 ounces macaroni and cheese mix; dessert item.

For $20 more, three meat specials are offered: 5.5 pounds steak/other meat combo box; or 5 pounds steak combo box; or 10 pounds of chicken breasts.

The food is cheap, and for the most part, it’s somewhat healthy.

Amanda Lynch, a former clinical dietitian at Strong Memorial Hospital who is pursuing doctorate studies at Cornell University, said the Angel Ministries menus offer a lot of protein-rich foods that have long shelf lives.

“Protein is essential in a diet, and most of the proteins are quality proteins,” she said.

However, pizza, macaroni and cheese, deli turkey and pasta sauce are high in sodium, which isn’t good for people with high cholesterol, and most of the meats are high in saturated fats, which doesn’t help people who at risk for heart disease.

A little modification and some supplemental foods can make the menu more healthy, said Lynch. Try to add fruit and vegetables to every meal, drain off drippings when cooking hamburger and trim off fat, and don’t eat the skin on the chicken.

“The things that are missing can be easily supplemented,” she said. “The food, for the most part, is going to be helpful for these people.”

Between 40 and 50 people have been taking part in Farmington. January’s $30 price is a $5 increase over previous months. Habberfield said the permanent increase stems from higher fuel costs to transport the food from Georgia to the distribution centers.

Angel Food Ministries works with various food makers and suppliers to negotiate favorable deals for the program.

Wentz said it helps out people in all kinds of situations — some who just can’t get to the store, others who want to get more with their food stamps, and others who simply like to stretch their budget by getting all kinds of food for $30.

“Most people are very happy” with the food, Wentz said. “I haven’t heard any complaints.”

And when she goes to St. John’s on distribution day, there’s always a good crowd.

“I thoroughly enjoy it,” Wentz said. “It’s a bargain. You can’t go to the grocery store and get that kind of deal. That’s for sure.”

Messenger Post reporter Stephanie Bergeron contributed to this report.

Billie Owens can be reached at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 320, or at