Gaballi is just one of several discount food ministries that has stepped up to provide discount groceries since Angel Food Ministries shut down in September. What makes Gaballi unique, however, is that, in addition to providing food at a much more affordable rate, they also provide their members with the opportunity to earn free food.
Gaballi launched in September, and although its launch coincided with the closing of AFM, the company's CEO says it was just God's timing.
“It's almost like the day we started to promote was the day they were closed down,” said Colin Farnum, the company's CEO, in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday. Instead of selling food at wholesale costs to chain stores, which then mark up the prices to sell to consumers, Farnum says Gaballi buys products directly from farmers and sells directly to consumers.
By making sure the food changes hands less frequently, the ministry is able to sell it at costs that are 30 to 70 percent less than retail stores. Farnum says the ministry specializes in fresh fruits and vegetables but, because of customer demand, it has also developed relationships with meat and poultry farmers. Starting in December it will also be selling non-perishable food items.
"The members dictate where we're going, we don't dictate to them. We really need to have what they want," said Farnum.
When Gaballi was being developed, its leaders studied AFM to compare products and prices, and Farnum says even those who were getting discounts through AFM weren't getting the best deal.
"I really don't understand for years and years why all these people were paying these high prices to Angel Food. I still can't get over it,” he said. “They claim that it was a good price, but it was very misleading in terms of the way that they promoted the items, and you need to be able to be a little more transparent when you're selling to a consumer."
He estimates that some of Gaballi's food is sold at prices 30 percent lower than what AFM sold it for.
AFM's closing in September was disappointing to the nearly 500,000 families nationwide that purchased from the ministry every month, especially for those who depended on the cheap food to survive.
The charity blamed the struggling economy for the shutdown, though many wondered if the questionable financial practices of AFM's founders, Joe and Linda Wingo, played a part in the ministry's closing. The Wingos are currently the focus of an ongoing FBI investigation that dates back to 2009.
While some food ministries took advantage of AFM's closure by hiring its former employees, Farnum says he only hired a few because he wanted to take a different approach.
“We don't want their mentality over here, because we have a totally different mentality,” he said.
Marnie Howard, Gaballi's Florida director of sales and outreach manager for southern Florida, says Gaballi is unique because both host sites and members can earn free food for referring others to the ministry.
“We have better prices, better quality and we offer a program where everyone involved can earn free food,” she said. Like AFM, Gaballi also gives its host sites – the churches and nonprofit organizations that distribute the food to individuals – one dollar per box of food distributed through the site.
Unlike AFM, however, Gaballi is a for-profit company. Its leaders say they can help people without taking advantage of government assistance or donations.
“We're a for-profit for nonprofits,” Howard said. “We're only helping nonprofits. We're helping get the food to where it needs to go the most. Those are the people that are hands on, really giving it to the right people.”
There are over 80 host sites currently signed up to receive and distribute food from Gaballi. Howard says most of the sites are in Florida and Ohio, but the company plans to distribute nationwide and already has host sites planned for California, Arizona, Vermont, Maine and other states as well.
Pastor Tom Almond, Gaballi's outreach minister for central Florida, says the current economy has forced some people to have to choose between food and medicine with the little money they have, but Gaballi is helping to ease that burden.
"It's giving them a hand up and giving them encouragement to be able to stretch their dollars," he said. Almond's job is to support the churches that want to become host sites, and to teach them how to minister to their communities through the program. He is also the senior pastor of a church that serves as a host site for the ministry.
The number one benefit of being able to feed needy people, he says, is the opportunity it gives host sites the opportunity to share the Gospel message with them.