“We have to let people know being humble is okay, being in trouble is okay…it’s about making people feel good about themselves,” said Mark Rees at the most recent Naugatuck Social Service Network meeting.
Rees is the founder of the Naugatuck Angel Food Ministries. AFM is a non-profit, non-denominational organization that provides food packages at reduced prices for families. According to its website, packages feed families of four for one week or one senior citizen for about a month. Packages range from $17-$35 and are distributed once per month.
Rees became interested in Angel Food Ministries after the troubled economy hit him close to home. “2008 was a bad year for me,” he said. “I hadn’t worked for more than two weeks in September, and by October, we had no money. So I went to the food bank, because if I couldn’t bring home a paycheck, I figured I could at least bring home food for my family. … I stood in line thinking, ‘This isn’t who I am. Why am I here?’”
Rees learned about AFM at a meeting of NEON, the Naugatuck Ecumenical Outreach Network, and before he knew it, Rees was contacting the Living Faith Christian Church in Waterbury and trying to set up a partnership between it and the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church of Naugatuck.
“Our first donated dinners fed 10 families,” Rees said.
Since then, the average number of families peaked at more than 100, but the average has dropped to just more than 60 since February. Though this may signal good news for the economy, Rees “wants to do better.”
Angel Food Ministries was founded in 1994 in Monroe, Georgia, and now has distributing facilities in 44 states. Company representatives visit name-brand distributors and buy monthly overages in bulk at the end of each month. All the food distributed is of the same quality as food families buy in grocery stores, but sold for a much lower price.
Rees and two of his friends that volunteer with Angel Food Ministries pick up deliveries each third or fourth Saturday of the month. The distribution truck stops in Wallingford, and items are handed out one at a time. “So, if you have 60 items on your list, you’re getting in line 60 times.”
Angel Food Ministries does not discriminate when it comes to who can purchase food packages. According to its website, there are no qualifications, minimums, income restrictions or applications.
“It’s one of the best ways to help stretch the food dollar,” Rees said. “I want to spread the message to the community that we’re all in this thing together, and this [program will] benefit everyone.”