By Amanda C. Davis
Demand is up for the bags of food worth $75 that are sold to anyone for only $30.
YOUNGSTOWN – “If you eat, you qualify.”
So says Melvin Balciar of Mineral Ridge, speaking about the Angel Food Ministries program that handed out deeply discounted food to the community Saturday at Crossroads Church, 554 S. Meridian Road.
The program offered 17 food items for $30. Each included chicken, steaks, lunch meat, vegetables, pasta, eggs and pantry items. Balciar said the same amount of food, if purchased at a local grocery store, would cost $75 or more.
Food orders for 264 units were taken throughout March and volunteers began unloading a semi truck at 4:30 a.m. Saturday to prepare for the crowd. Angel Food Ministries is a non-profit, nondenominational organization operating in 38 states.
The discounted food is available to anyone who places an order, not just those who are struggling financially. The program operates every month and features a new menu each time.
Rosemarie Minich of Youngstown said the economy means she has to find new ways to feed her family of two for less. “I think this is an awesome program,” she said, explaining that when she leaves with her food, her dignity is still intact.
The church also provides customers with free soup, coffee, tea and doughnuts and, in warmer months, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.
Volunteers formed an assembly line to distribute the food quickly and helped people load their cars. Most were in and out in less than 10 minutes.
Anthony Carino, 9, of Austintown, gives up sleep- overs and other activities to help every month, carrying out groceries for customers. His mom, Gayle, said he got up at 3 a.m. Saturday to help unload the truck. Anthony said helping out is a fun way to praise God.
Heather Cominsky of Austintown said the package feeds her family of four for about a week. “It really does help out,” she said. “I’d still order whether or not the economy was bad.”
Carrie Dascoli, a nurse and program volunteer, said the church’s goal is to help feed 1,000 families per month through Angel Ministries.
“I’ve seen a lot of my patients who are eating cat food because they have to choose between [paying for] medicine or food,” she said. “People are so worried about how they’re going to feed their families, and this gives them their dignity back.”
Buyers are able to pay by cash, money orders or food stamps. They can also order and pay online with a credit or debit card.
Balciar said the church has participated in the Angel Ministries program for four years and explained he knows of six other churches in the area that take part. “We call this a hand up, not a hand- out,” he said.
In addition to the 17 items available, people also have the chance to spend an additional $16 to $22 for a box of assorted meat or one containing vegetables and fruit. Each month has different ordering options.
The number of orders has increased by about 100 from February to March, according to Balciar’s wife Cheryl.
Youngstown Board of Education member Shelley Murray, who belongs to Crossroads Church, purchased a package to help stretch her grocery budget. She and husband Shawn, a Youngstown firefighter, have three children, and he has two from a previous marriage.
The cost of the program’s meat offers a “substantial savings” over what she’d pay at the grocery store, Murray said, explaining this was the first time she ordered through Angel Ministries.
In January, Shawn returned from Iraq, where he served with the Army National Guard. Shelley said that although he had heard the U.S. economy was weak, he was very surprised to see the price of things once he returned.
“We’re all just adjusting with this economy,” she added.
Some people buy food packages as gifts, and Balciar said others purchase them to donate to church food pantries. The Balciars are program coordinators for Angel Food Ministries. For more information, call them at (330) 799-9988 or (330) 544-1064.