After 17 years of selling discount groceries to families in need across the country, Angel Food Ministries has closed.
The Monroe, Ga.-based nonprofit will stop operations immediately, according to a statement Wednesday.
The news, while sad, isn’t a surprise, said Rana O’Bryant, the coordinator for Angel Food Ministries at her church, Second Providence Baptist Church of North Augusta. Hers is one of more than 30 churches in Augusta, Evans, Thomson, Aiken, and Edgefield, S.C., that sells the discount food.
Earlier this month, the ministry announced it would suspend sales for September and would consider a reorganization, but made no mention of closing.
O’Bryant said the decision to stop selling the boxes for even one month left many in her church and community without affordable food.
“People were still hoping it’d resume,” she said. “They were hoping and praying. I called every day to their headquarters and was placed on hold for 20 minutes, trying to find out what was happening. I never got an answer.”
At the time, Angel Food blamed the suspension on rising food and fuel prices, along with growing numbers of customers who were unable to afford the boxes. In four years, orders across the country decreased from 550,000 boxes a month to 125,000 boxes a month, according to Angel Food.
Several years ago, 100 people or more would come to Second Providence to buy boxes, O’Bryant said. In recent years, the number has been closer to 40 or 50.
“The boxes used to cost $21, then $25, until they went up to $35,” she said. “Some months people could afford it; some months they couldn’t.”
Even as prices crept up, Betty Moore said food purchased through Angel Food was the best deal around.
“I am home-bound. I’m in a walker. Without Angel Food, I would starve,” said Moore, 77, of North Augusta, who had a box of Angel Food Ministries groceries delivered once a month. “I’m really sick over this. It’s been a blow to everybody. We want it back. We really do.”
Angel Food was able to sell food cheaply because it bought in bulk from national suppliers. It was Moore’s main source of food for the month.
“I have a friend who is going to take me to the store, but I’ll have to spend $100 at the store to get what I got from Angel Food,” she said. “With their boxes, you’ve got roast, steak, pork chops, chicken, beans, rice and every vegetable you can think of. You get cereal, oatmeal, fruit. It’s a blessing. Angel Food is a real blessing.”
Angel Food was started in 1994 by pastors Joe and Linda Wingo. The organization’s practices made headlines in 2009, when the FBI raided its offices.
No charges were filed, but board members and others filed a lawsuit accusing the leadership of using the ministry to make money. The Wingos and their two sons on staff were making $500,000 a year.
The suit was settled and new leadership promised financial transparency.
Two years later, the closing of the ministry not only affects those who purchased the food, but also the churches that participated. For every box sold, churches received $1. Angel Food reports that it returned about $24 million to its partners over the years.
“It’s a shame it has to end,” O’Bryant said. “It’s the kind of program that if I had to pick only one ministry to do, that would be the one. It has that sort of impact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.