Angel Food Ministries, which said earlier this month that it would not be able to distribute its discounted food for the month of September, announced this week plans to shut down for good.
“Angel Food Ministries has considered many options regarding our future,” reads a message posted on the ministry's website. “At this time we regret to inform you that we have not found a solution that will allow Angel Food Ministries to continue to distribute food on a monthly basis and have decided to cease operations.”
AFM is a Georgia-based nonprofit that was founded in 1994 by Pastors Joe and Linda Wingo to provide discounted food items to the poor and needy. Approximately 500,000 families a month purchased from the organization prior to its shutdown.
The message on the ministry's website claims 98 percent of its customers that placed an order for September have already received a full refund. AFM says that it has been able to return $24 million to church host sites and other partner organizations. And AFM intends to work with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide refunds to the remaining 59 customers who used SNAP benefits to place their orders.
Though the economy may have had an impact on the organization, The Christian Post reported Sept. 12 that the charity has also found itself in questionable legal and financial situations involving the Wingos. The FBI in 2009 opened an investigation into the Wingos that is ongoing.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Thursday that AFM has laid off all 90 of its full-time staff members and put its headquarters up for sale. In order to save money on energy costs, the ministry also got rid of food in its cold storage facility by either returning it to its vendors or by donating it to food banks and charities.
Though no charges have yet been filed against the Wingos, an anonymous spokesman for Angel Food told the AJC that the ongoing FBI investigation hurt the ministry's image and its relationships with both churches and its customers. The spokesman also said the investigation resulted in “considerable legal expense” for the organization.
The question now remains what will the ministry's host sites do to provide for the needs of local AFM customers who have come to depend on the discounted food program.
“Right now we just don't have an option available to us for anything real immediate,” said Kevin Davis, senior pastor of First Assembly of God in Farmington, Mo., in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday.
Davis says his church has been a host site for AFM for nearly eight years, and served between 50 and 60 families per month leading up to this week's announcement. Davis has heard of other ministries similar to AFM's, but doesn't expect to begin a new program before the beginning of 2012.
“We're definitely saddened by the fact that that has happened, but right now we're just kind of re-evaluating things for the future,” he said.
Juan Villalobos, pastor of the Hispanic ministry at Triangle Christian Church in Raleigh, N.C., ran an AFM host site but did not hear about the ministry's shut down until The Christian Post contacted him.
“Sad. Very, very, very sad. This news is disappointing in many ways,” Villalobos said when he heard the news.
Villalobos says he's been working with AFM for about two years, and the number of families his host site feeds varies between 35 and 60 per month. Going forward, he says, his plan is to start by “knocking on doors,” going to local supermarkets to ask for donations, or possibly even starting a food bank.
"It's hard, but we have to do it. We have to. If we want to help people, if we want to...show the community we love her and we are taking care of them in the way that we can, we have to do it."
Barry Bowen contributed to this report