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Fed interest in Angel Food program raises some concerns

Two Lincoln County churches are continuing to participate inAngel Food Ministries and another plans to start anew in May,despite the uncertainty brought to the Georgia-based ministry byfederal authorities and an intra-corporate lawsuit.

Brookhaven’s First Church of the Nazarene and Vision CommunityChurch are still taking orders for the ministry, which benefitslow-income families by selling large, $30 boxes of assorted foodsvalued at $65. Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in the EastLincoln community will not operate the ministry in March or April,but leaders plans to resume taking orders in May.

Angel Food Ministries came under fire in February by the FederalBureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service, whichraided its corporate office in Monroe, Ga.

The nature of the investigation has not been disclosed, but arecently settled lawsuit brought by two of the organization’s boardmembers accused the founding Wingo family of siphoning money fromthe non-profit ministry. It resulted in the Wingos’ company creditcards’ cancellation and a Wingo-owned business being signed over tothe ministry, according to various Georgia news services.

A financial audit of the ministry is also forthcoming.

With so much prying into the ministry on the federal level,Pleasant Grove’s Angel Food Ministries Coordinator Connie Ard saidher church is waiting to see how the situation develops beforecommitting to any further orders. She said her church is afraid itwill have to refund thousands of dollars to local participants ifthe IRS were to freeze the ministry’s accounts as part of theinvestigation.

“I’m afraid I’ll send $4,000 or $5,000 up there and not get ourfood,” Ard said. “I would have to refund the money, and the churchdoesn’t have it. We’re kind of scared right now.”

Ard said Pleasant Grove would monitor other Angel Foodparticipants, like Nazarene and Vision Community churches, to seeif their money was taken, orders process and food delivered. Shesaid ministry officials told her during a phone call to the mainoffice that there is “nothing to worry about.”

March is the first month Pleasant Grove hasn’t taken food orderssince it began operating the ministry in August last year.

Ard said the program was going well before the corporatetroubles arrived, with the church averaging around 80 food ordersper month for approximately $2,500. She said church leaders woulddecide on resuming the ministry in six weeks.

“Deep down, I feel like everything’s going to be OK,” Ard said.”We’re just going to take a couple months break.”

Nazarene and Vision Community churches are even more confident.Both are continuing to take Angel Food orders, despite thepossibility of losing and having to refund money.

“We’re not worried about anything at all,” First Church of theNazarene Pastor Chris Rego said defiantly. “I think the corporationis bigger than the rumors that have been going around.”

Vision Community Church Pastor Ronnie Morgan said his churchwould follow Angel Food developments while continuing to take200-300 orders per month. He said church leaders there haveconsidered the possibility of having to refund seized money toparticipants, but the benefits of the ministry outweigh thefinancial dangers.

“We’d have to float a loan to pay it back,” Morgan said. “For achurch our size, it would be a very difficult thing to pull off.We’re just going to have to act on faith and hope and pray itdoesn’t happen.”

With the economy worsening, Morgan saw an increased need forAngel Food Ministries Thursday, the church’s first day of takingorders in March. He said there was a 20 percent increase in ordersthat will likely result in 100 additional food boxes thismonth.

Brookhaven’s Avie Collins said Angel Food Ministries is a greatprogram that should be continued.

“For people who don’t have much money and are trying to savewith the economy the way it is, it’s a good buy,” she said.

Erma Moak said she uses the ministry every month.

“This feeds my husband and I for a month,” she said. “Withoutit, I guess I’d have to cut out some things – like my telephone.The only thing I wouldn’t cut out is my going to church.”

Moak said any wrongdoers within Angel Food Ministries should bepunished, but the ministry itself should not be affected.

“I think they ought to stay out of it and leave it along,” shesaid of federal investigators. “This is a good service.”

Angel Food Ministries is not limited to low-income familiesonly, however. Brookhaven’s Cindy Wall said she only uses theministry every other month or so, but with the shaky conditions ofthe economy, she and even non-users may come running to Vision’sdoors in the future.

“I’m sure there are a lot of people getting it who need it morethan me, but I don’t know what’s coming in the future,” she said.”I could need it one day. Who knows what’s coming?”