The volunteers in the trucks, vans and trailers that line the parking lot once a month at Mountain of the Lord Fellowship are working to help families make the most of their food dollars.
''Economically, these are challenging times for everybody, but we all need to put food on our tables,'' said the Rev. Eugene Norris, pastor at Mountain of the Lord. ''This is a way for the religious community to help families stretch their dollars by buying groceries for half the amount they would pay at the grocery store.''
Mountain of the Lord, on Copley Road in Akron, is one of two local drop sites for Angel Food Ministries, which provides boxes of food with an average retail value of $60 for half the cost. The mission of the Georgia-based Christian organization is to offer low prices on foods that are staples in many kitchens, including meats like chicken or beef, milk, eggs and vegetables.
Each month, the ministry provides what is called its signature box of food for $30. The box will feed a family of four for about a week, or a single senior citizen for about a month. The menu for the signature box, which contains both frozen and fresh food and items from the major food groups, changes every month.
This month's menu included rib-eye steak, pork chops, breaded chicken breasts, lasagna with meat sauce, zucchini, cauliflower and breakfast cereal. Next month's menu includes New York strip steak, chicken breast fajita strips, pork roast, baby lima beans and fresh apples.
Here's how it works: People find a host site and place an order for boxes of groceries from the menu. Orders can also be placed online. Several weeks later, the boxes are delivered by truck to a drop site — locally at Mountain of the Lord or Johnson United Methodist Church in Norton. The Norton drop site is managed by volunteers from Calvary Wesleyan Church in Barberton.
The truck, carrying boxes to be distributed at more than 30 local sites, is unloaded by volunteers at the drop site. The boxes are then reloaded into trucks, vans and trailers and transported to host sites, where they are distributed to the people who ordered them.
''The food is good and it's a good value,'' said the Rev. Jim Gindlesberger, associate pastor at Lakeview Christian Church in Green. ''We started participating in the ministry more than two years ago as a community outreach. What we have discovered is not only does it help people in the community but it gives our volunteers an opportunity to do ministry.''
Once a month, Gindlesberger and volunteers from other host sites arrive about 6:30 a.m. at Mountain of the Lord to pick up the boxes to fill their orders. At Johnson United Methodist Church, the time is 4:30 a.m.
''It makes for a long day. But it's well worth it because it's all about helping people,'' said Richard Reese, a volunteer from Akron's North Hill Church of Christ. ''Every month, someone comes to pick up their box of food and their face just lights up with a smile and they tell us how much of a difference it makes in their household.''
There are no income restrictions nor an application process to place an order with Angel Food Ministries. Orders can be paid with cash, money orders or the Ohio Direction Card. There is no limit on the number of boxes that can be ordered.
''The beauty of this ministry is that there are no stipulations. We don't care what your income is; if you need the break on your grocery bill, you can participate,'' said Euna Tolbert, drop site director and host site coordinator at Mountain of the Lord. ''Every host site also accepts donations to provide food for needy families. We accept donations all year long because there are always families in need of food.''
A significant number of the volunteers who work at the drop sites and distribution sites also order food through the ministry. The Rev. Perry Elkins, pastor of Calvary Wesleyan Church, said he regularly orders for his family of four.
''There have only been a few months in the three years that our church has participated in the ministry that we haven't ordered through Angel Food. I can say it's helped our food budget and we haven't had any complaints about the quality of the food,'' Elkins said. ''We offer this ministry to help meet a need, not to get people to come to our church, and I think it's been successful in making a difference in people's lives.''
In addition to the signature box, Angel Food offers a senior convenience box developed for senior citizens. That box, which costs $28, contains fully cooked nutritious meals that need only to be heated. Each meal contains 3 ounces of protein, a starch and two vegetables or fruits.
A five-pound allergen-free box is available for $23. The box contains frozen food and dry-mix items for people with allergies to peanuts, soybeans, milk, eggs, fish, tree nuts and gluten.
The deadline to buy the Thanksgiving basket has passed but a special holiday box is available for the Dec. 12 distribution date. Angel Food also offers special boxes, like fruits and vegetables, chicken breasts and an assorted meat grill box.
''With so many people out of work, this ministry is a real blessing because it gives people a chance to save money on quality food,'' said Nancy Maurer, host site coordinator at Park United Methodist Church in Akron's Kenmore area. ''It's for all of us who can stand to use a little savings on our grocery bills.''
To view a menu or order online, visit http://www.angelfoodministries.com.
LOCAL HOST SITES
Crossroads Bible Fellowship, 330-784-8883.
Mountain of the Lord Fellowship, 330-873-9793.
North Hill Church of Christ, 330-922-3306
Park United Methodist Church, 330-745-3714.
Wedgewood United Methodist Church, 330-733-7311.
Alliance (Lexington Township)
Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 330-935-2500.
Calvary Wesleyan Church, 330-825-3001.
Montrose Zion United Methodist Church, 330-665-9817.
Harvest Time Assembly of God, 330-273-1815.
All Saints Catholic Church, 330-477-2763.
Dueber United Methodist Church, 330-456-8357.
North Industry Christian Church, 330-484-2061.
Bridging the Gap Ministries, 330-697-0624.
Deaf Outreach Church, http://www.Deafoutreach.com, 330-575-2916.
Lakeview Christian Church, 330-644-8809.
Hartville (Lake Township)
Hartville Church of God, 330-877-9260.
Western Reserve Christian Church, 330-650-1242.
Mount Pleasant Church of the Brethren, 330-499-5131.
First Congregational Church of Lodi, 330-948-1109.
Paradise United Church of Christ, 330-875-2677.
Magnolia (Sandy Township)
Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 330-866-9293.
New Hope Christian Fellowship Brethren Church, 330-721-4594.
North Canton Church of Christ, 330-499-4303.
North Lawrence (Lawrence Township)
Grace Bible Church of North Lawrence, 330-854-2954.
Perry Christian Church, 330-477-7262.
Northwest Church of Christ, 330-492-5523.
Simpson United Methodist Church, 330-492-1632.
St. Joseph Family Parish, 330-296-6967.
Firm Foundation Ministry Inc., 330-297-5933.
Milton Presbyterian Church, 330-925-2651.
Smithville Brethren Church, 330-669-2267.
First Church of God, 330-633-0107.
Christ Community Fellowship Church, 330-405-2817.
Church of Christ, 330-348-3215.
Church of the Saviour, 330-264-5233.
Salem Lutheran Church, 330-345-6727.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.