Food sharing ministries fill gap for families



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Food sharing ministries fill gap for families

Nov. 5, 2008   News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0936}

NOTE: See related story, “Economy affects outreach ministries, people served,” at: http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000052/005219.htm

An e-Review Feature
By Jenna De Marco**

Floridians seeking relief from higher food prices might find it at their local United Methodist church. Many offer food sharing programs that are for everyone.

Basic monthly packages of food through SHARE wait for pickup at a host site. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Family Ministries. Photo #08-1051. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

“We were a nice thing to do before, and we’ve gone to more of a relevant necessity,” said Tim Caske, director of the SHARE Florida Food Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting community service and delivering lower-cost, nutritious food to its participants.

Kitty Carpenter, director of development for Cornerstone Family Ministries (CFM), said SHARE has experienced a significantly higher amount of publicity and demand in the past several months. CFM, formerly Tampa United Methodist Centers, and TECO Energy sponsor the program.

“Yes, SHARE’s transportation costs are going up, and some food sources are getting harder to book,” Carpenter said. “However, SHARE’s orders for July were up 20 percent over this time last year … because it is top-quality food at 50 percent of the cost, and it is a wonderful program.”

SHARE serves areas from as far south as Key West to as far north as Thomasville, Ga. Organizers purchase food directly from national food distributors, and volunteers help distribute the food to about 300 host sites once a month, serving about 7,000 families. About one-third of the host sites are United Methodist churches, although any nonprofit organization is eligible to become a host site. A basic monthly package of food through SHARE costs $18, but would sell at retail prices for about $36.

Although there are no income requirements to participate in the program, SHARE does encourage families and individuals to volunteer at a cause of their choosing in exchange for the savings they receive.

In SHARE’s first 10 years in operation, participants volunteered an estimated 4.4 million hours and 2.5 million food packages were provided at a community savings of $53 million, according to the SHARE Web site.

Caske said the volatile food and gas prices of 2008 make advance ordering through SHARE’s vendors a bit more challenging.

“We put together a ‘SHARE the Season’ holiday package for November/December, and normally by this time I’ve got everything locked up and signed, and currently, I am not finding anybody willing to go that far out,” Caske said. “It’s going to happen a little closer to the time scheduled for delivery. It’s just a way of learning to do business a little bit differently.”

Civil Air Patrol volunteers unload food for SHARE. Photo courtesy of Cornerstone Family Ministries. Photo #08-1052. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

Besides rising prices, Caske said SHARE struggles with two other issues: convincing people the food is top quality equal to or better than the food found in grocery stores and helping people realize that when they participate they are not taking low-cost food away from others who need it.

“Our greatest need would be more people participating in SHARE by purchasing the food,” Caske said. “The more (people) who purchase the food, the more we can help the community. It really is a win-win, and the problem is people struggle with getting their mind around that concept.”

Caske explains how this is true. “If I can fill up a truck, the transportation (costs are) spread out over the number of participants,” he said.

Serving while being served

Dozens of United Methodist churches also participate in Angel Food Ministries (AFM), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide food relief while contributing to the community it serves.

Joe and Linda Wingo, a clergy couple in Monroe, Ga., founded the ministry in 1994 to help local families affected by industrial plant closings in the area. The program now feeds more than 500,000 families a month in 35 states, according to its Web site.

Betty Hagan, a member of Fort White United Methodist Church, volunteers her time once a month on food distribution day at the church, which is a host site for the AFM ministry. She also orders from the food program, along with her daughter and nieces.

“It’s been a blessing, and it really helps you save some money,” Hagan said. “We do the volunteering, and we help distribute. Usually on the day it’s delivered we do about five or six hours.”

Hagan estimates she is saving about $200 a month on her grocery bill because she purchases food from the AFM main menu, as well as two or three of the specials.

“If you buy it all it usually gives you close to three weeks of food as far as the meat goes, and sometimes it gives you a month of meat,” she said.

Like SHARE, the AFM program requires participants to pay for their food, but it costs less than at grocery stores because volunteers supply the labor, accounting and distribution. A regular box from the menu costs $30, senior menus of fully cooked meals ready for reheating sell for $25 for 10 meals, and special menu boxes are available for about $20 with the purchase of a regular or senior box.

Volunteers unload food provided by Angel Food Ministries (AFM) at Fort White United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Fort White United Methodist Church. Photo #08-1053. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.

“People have a tendency to look at this as a charity program. It is not,” said the Rev. David Kirk, pastor of the Fort White church. “You are paying for what you receive. It’s open to everybody and … that’s one of the things that we’ve had to get out — that this isn’t just for certain people.”

Kirk said he and his wife buy one of the regular boxes and can get about 12 meals from it.

“Now we have families that come in that will buy four boxes, and you literally can feed a family of four for a couple of weeks,” he said. “ … The people have been very happy about the food we’ve received.”

One challenge the church faced was setting up an effective accounting system for the food payments, which Kirk said is now running smoothly. Another was finding ways to help families buying with food stamps.

“The reason is that it is hard for them to pay for their food two weeks ahead of time,” Kirk said. “We’ve done several things, like buy 10 extra boxes of food they can come get on the day we distribute the food … we’ve even had people in our church to buy the boxes for donations.”

Being the church

Hagan’s extended family resides in Fort White, a rural community northwest of Gainesville. She and her family began attending Fort White United Methodist Church after learning about the AFM program.

“We were looking for a good home church, and we found our home,” Hagan said. “They are very wonderful people, and it’s like God led us there for that purpose, and I’ve been looking for a lot of years for a good church that I felt comfortable in.”

Kirk said many of the AFM participants do not attend a church.

“Of course, we’re talking to them all the time, and it’s kind of my philosophy that I would like to see everybody in the church,” Kirk said. “But our purpose is that we want to show that love of God through acts. I think what people are seeing is … that a church in their community is actually doing something for their community, and I think that’s an important thing for them to see that.”

Families wait in line to pick up their Angel Food Ministries (AFM) food packages at Fort White United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Fort White United Methodist Church. Photo #08-1054. Web photo only. For longer description see photo gallery.
The church became a host site for the program in December 2007 at the urging of members Debbie and Terry McClelland, who coordinate the program. Since then, the number of people served has grown from 25 participants to about 200 people each month.

“We know that throughout the town a lot of people refer to us as the church that feeds you, and, of course, we’d love to do that spiritually, and I must say that our membership also has grown through this program,” Kirk said.

More information on SHARE and AFM is available at http://www.cornerstonefamilyministries.org/SHARE.aspx and http://www.angelfoodministries.com. Menus and monthly distribution dates also are available online.

Kirk is willing to talk with anyone interested in learning more about how a church can become a host site. He may be reached at dkirk@ftwhiteumc.org or 352-870-1952.

And in a newly formed blog at http://www.flumc2.org/blog_entries.asp, Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker addresses the current economic crisis in a posting titled “Faith, Fears and Finances.”

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*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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