After Angel Food Ministries announced in September it would be shutting down operations, many ministry patrons were left baffled as to where they could go for help. Now, two separate groups of former AFM employees are looking to fill the need created by the loss of such a helpful ministry.
In June 2010, Jacob and David “Tony” Prather founded One Harvest Food Ministries. Jacob once served as a regional vice president for AFM. David served as one of the ministry's directors before suing its top leaders, the Wingo family, in March 2009 for allegedly misappropriating several million dollars in funds.
The two sides in the lawsuit reached a settlement, and now the Prathers’ One Harvest ministry is picking up speed. It started out by distributing food to a pilot group in Georgia and north Florida. In July 2011 they temporarily ceased deliveries to prepare for a nationwide launch, which they anticipate in spring 2012. The ministry will launch operations in the Southeast on Nov. 19.
“We're made up of a team that has worked with different food ministries throughout the years, and we've learned from the successes and the failures in different areas,” said Doug Metcalfe, vice president of sales and marketing for One Harvest, in an interview with The Christian Post on Wednesday.
Metcalfe is just one of a number of One Harvest employees that previously worked for AFM. He served as AFM's director of media and marketing through 2009, and says that AFM's impending closure was evident before it was even made official.
“It was obvious to anyone who knows food ministry or lives in this region ... you didn't have to have anybody on the inside,” he said. “You knew just from the amount of trucks that were being sent out on the roads, to the news stories to the amount of host sites being shut down weekly. It was very obvious.”
A number of former AFM host sites have received emails from One Harvest, leading many of them to ask how the new ministry got their information in the first place. Metcalfe said he wasn't sure, but says many of these host sites have been contacting one another about One Harvest.
"There's such a need for food out there, and the people who maybe have been casual users of this type of ministry are now out there going, 'Oh my goodness, now it's gone, what do I do?'” he said. “You don't know what you had until it's gone.”
Metcalf says in order to succeed where other food ministries have failed, One Harvest will operate on a new ministry model, will keep low overhead costs and will continue to distribute high quality food.
AFM provided food to around 500,000 families throughout the U.S. every month, and many of them depended heavily on the ministry's discounted food products. Citing the burden of the struggling economy, however, the ministry announced in September that it couldn't distribute food for the month, and a few weeks later announced that it would cease operations altogether.
Though the economy played a role in the ministry's collapse, some questioned the integrity of AFM's top leadership, the Wingos. An ongoing FBI investigation, the lawsuit filed by Prather and former board member Craig Atnip, and questionable earning and spending habits by the Wingos all raised red flags for some critics.
Despite the bad publicity, another group of former AFM employees hopes to recreate the ministry under new leadership and push forward with the mission of serving the needy.
“We will be transparent from the beginning and hopefully that will satisfy anyone that wants to hold onto the past publicity,” the group posted on AFM's Facebook account on Sunday. “Our small group of former employees and vendors are working together and it will be several folks making decisions while we try to re-vamp a program that will benefit all.”
They hope to have the ministry in operation by November.
Barry Bowen contributed to this report