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Angel Food Ministries, which in the past has delivered discounted food to as many as 5,000 churches in 43 states, has cancelled September’s deliveries and suspended refunds of pre-payments.

A statement on the ministry’s website reads:

 We regret to inform you that Angel Food Ministries will not be holding a food distribution for the month of September.

Full refunds are now being processed to those who have already placed orders for the September distribution.

Like the thousands of businesses in America that have endured one of the worst recessions in the past 100 years, we too have faced operational and financial challenges. We have every intention to continue offering great food at great prices in the coming months and are considering ways to reorganize or restructure our Ministry.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause to the hundreds of thousands of customers who have come to rely on us every month, to our Host Sites and to the thousands of volunteers who join us in serving God by helping those in need.

Please check this website often for the latest information. Thank you for your understanding and May God Bless.

An answering machine at Angel Food’s Georgia headquarters relayed a similar message. Telephone calls and email messages from Beliefnet requesting a comment from officials have not been returned.

On Saturday, Della Villers, Angel Food’s northeast regional vice president and minister of outreach, wrote an email to her region’s host sites saying that she had lost her job.

“Please keep my family in your prayers as well as I also lost my ministry in AFM and my job,” she wrote. “Self employed and can not collect unemployment, so after 7 years I like many Americans will be looking for work.”

Her email goes on to say that “with the current economical status of the ministry AFM will not be able to send any further credit or refund. Pastor Joe Wingo does not want to give any false hope that he can continue to refund or credit customers now.”

The ministry headquarters is located in a 16,000-square-foot warehouse in Monroe, Ga.

The practice of the program was to buy in bulk and then sell food in family-sized quantities. Food items in the boxes changed from month to month with a variety of meat, vegetables, and fruits — and a price tag between $31 and $51. The boxes could also be purchased with food stamps.

“A lawsuit was filed in 2009 by two board members of the organization, David A. Prather and Craig Atnip,” reports Juliet Seligman of the Mobile, Ala., newspaper the Journal, “who alleged significant misallocation of funds by Joe and Linda Wingo to the tune of $2.7 million. Additionally, the organization owed an outstanding debt to the Department of Agriculture for a $6,613,261 loan. Further, at least four companies formed by the Wingos owed debts to the ministry, and the Wingos owed personal loans.

“In the end, Prather and Atnip agreed to drop the lawsuit, with conditions. The court ordered Angel Food to complete a forensic audit, and company credit cards used by the Wingos were ordered canceled. A jet that Joe Wingo bought, which he then leased back to Angel Food Ministries for a profit of $10,000 monthly, was ordered turned over to the company. Finally, son Andy Wingo was banned from doing business with the organization, and Angel Food was ordered to pay $45,000 for Atnip’s and Prather’s legal fees.”

Jim Gindlesberger, associate pastor of Lakeview Christian Church in Akron, Ohio, oversees the Angel Food Ministries at his church, which has been a host site for three years and serves around 30 people per month through the ministry.

“I was shocked,” he told Jeff Schapiro of the Christian Post, upon learning he wouldn’t be able to distribute food this month. “And then the reality of ‘what do I do next’ sets in, because I’ve got people that placed orders and we have several people that are pretty dependent upon it.”

“This month’s distribution shutdown renews questions concerning the organization’s somewhat murky financial and legal past,” writes Schapiro. “While some accept that the American economy is to blame, others wonder whether greed among the organization’s top leaders led to this month’s food stoppage.

“AFM is on Ministry Watch’s 2010 list of donor alerts, which is designed to warn donors of charities operating with ‘questionable practices.'” writes Schapiro. “The watchdog group warns AFM donors of an ongoing FBI investigation, stating that charities ‘do not normally raise the concern of the FBI and to do so should be a red flag for supporters.’

What’s in a box of Angel Food? A recent brochure offered for $30 the following:

.5 lb. Lean Chopped Beef Steaks (5 x 8 oz.)
5 lb. Leg Quarters
2 lb. Chicken and Corn Bread Stuffing Casserole (Ready to Cook)
28 oz. Salisbury Steak Dinner Entrée
1 lb. Boneless Pork Chops (4 x 4 oz.)
1 lb. Corn Dogs (6 ct.)
12 oz. Deli Sliced Ham
5 oz. Chunk Light Tuna in Water
32 oz. French Fries
1 lb. Sweet Corn
15 oz. Musselman’s Apple Sauce
15 oz. Pears
8 oz. Dinner Roll Mix (Makes 8 Nice Rolls)
7.5 oz. Mac ’n Cheese
32 oz. 2% Shelf Stable Milk
Dozen Eggs
Dessert

“At first glance, this is a pretty good deal,” observes the website “The Simple Dollar, “and if your primary concern is getting food on the table at a very low price, this is likely a great option for you.

“However, if you dig a little deeper, some of these options may not be the best value for your dollar. For example, I would be hesitant to feed several of the options on that list to my children on any sort of consistent basis, at least not without some careful inspection of the actual nutrition facts and ingredients of those items (the corn dogs, the “dessert” item which is often something like Twinkies or Moon Pies, etc.)

“Under that perspective, though, if I were to get the box, then throw out a third of the items, I might as well simply go to the grocery store at my own convenience and choose the exact items I want for my $30. Other writers have come to largely the same conclusion – it’s a value on the surface, but the quality of items may not be up to many personal standards.

“I sat down to research how the charity itself worked. What I found sent up a few pretty big red flags for me.

“First of all, the charity is not listed with Charity Navigator, an impartial service that evaluates charities in terms of how they manage themselves internally and how much of their revenue actually goes towards charitable work.

“Second, the charity is being investigated by the FBI for reasons that are not being made clear by either the charity or the FBI.

“Perhaps the biggest red flag, however, comes from MinistryWatch, a watchdog group for Christian-affiliated charities. It issued a “donor watch” for Angel Food Ministries, stating the following:

“Angel Food Ministries is marketing to help individuals that are on the low economic side of the scale and in ‘need;’ however, the leadership for the organization has higher salaries than the norm. In addition, the higher salaries consist of the leadership of individuals that are related. This is just for the known year of 2006, it is unknown of the more current years.

       Wesley J. Wingo: $588,529
       Linda Wingo: $544,043
       Andrew Wingo: $529,014
       Wesley Wingo: $454,673
       L.M. Wingo: $384,694

“On the ground, Angel Food Ministries provides a good service that many people really need – a lot of food at a very reasonable price at the expense of flexibility,” concluded The Simple Dollar. “For someone in a poor financial situation, Angel Food Ministries can really be a godsend.

“However, as a broader charity, I would not donate to Angel Food Ministries when there are many highly ethical charities out there to contribute time and effort to. In many larger cities, there are local versions of Angel Food Ministries that you can donate to or be involved with – just ask around in your own community.”

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