In these tough economic times, hunger is affecting Americans in every walk of life. That's why the Ohio-based Christian organization Great Food for All sets no financial requirements for people to buy their discount groceries.
"We coined this phrase some time ago: 'If you eat, you qualify,'•" said the Rev. Dane Price, founder of the organization that distributes low-priced food and groceries on a monthly basis.
"Jesus said the poor will always be with you but, man, the middle class is gone. In our economy today, virtually everybody needs help. People who are savvy are looking for ways to cut budgets and food is one of the biggest items in those budgets," Mr. Price said in an interview this week.
Great Food for All was founded last year as a for-profit organization by a group of individuals including Mr. Price, 54, who is the pastor of a nondenominational church in Newton Falls, Ohio.
The program offers pre-packaged boxes of groceries for about half price, delivered once a month through a network of host sites, mainly churches.
There are more than 20 churches participating in the Toledo area.
"I'm not real good at keeping track of the numbers but we're growing like mad," Mr. Price said. "I think we started out [in June, 2008] with the first distribution in about 100 host sites, and I think we're in 19 states now."
The main menu selection is the "Big Box," containing about $60 to $80 worth of food for $30. Those who buy the Big Box can add specials such as a kids' menu, a breakfast box, fish and shrimp, or five pounds of rib-eye steaks for prices ranging from $16 to $38.
People can place their orders at the host site, and many local sites are now taking orders online.
Pam Casper, who oversees the program at Olivet Lutheran Church on Monroe Street in Sylvania, said she has about a dozen volunteers who do everything from taking monthly orders to picking up boxes at a central drop-off site.
"The quality of food is really good and it all comes frozen and prepackaged in boxes," she said. "It's very easy for people to carry home. It's a great value and the menu is well rounded."
Mr. Price said having everything prepackaged before delivery is one of the major advantages Great Food for All has over similar programs.
"I think we're the only food ministry in the country that provides preboxed meals. It saves a lot of time at host sites. If you don't do that, then for a church to get involved they need about 10 times the volunteers," he said.
It's the volunteers who enable Great Food for All to sell the groceries at about half the price of retailers.
"It has to do with volume, naturally, but more than that it has to do with our volunteers," Mr. Price said. "I liken it to an entire chain of mom-and-pop grocery stores that are only open once a month, but because of the graciousness of all of our host sites and volunteers there's no overhead, no salaries, no electric bill, no gas bill.
"These people decide it's [the will] of the Lord for them to reach out and serve the community. So all the costs associated with having something like that open to the public are not there. That's where the savings are," he said.
Helping people in the community is what motivates Lynda Hunt to run the Great Food for All outreach at Hope United Methodist Church in Whitehouse.
"It's a ministry. We're not in it for the money," she said. "Our church is a very giving church and I have not had any problems getting volunteers."
Mr. Price said many host sites set up prayer tables or display a box for people to submit prayer requests.
"When people come in, they will have the chance to request prayer. Prayer absolutely, positively works," he said.
Great Food for All is a ministry that depends on building relationships, Mr. Price said.
"I think that the church in America, by and large, loves to speak. But I believe we have to earn the right to speak into people's lives," he said. "The only way is by following Jesus' model and that is to serve. We have to reach our communities on a human level. We do a lot of talking but not a lot of serving. People don't care about what you know until they know that you care."
More information, including a link to finding nearby sites, is available online at greatfoodforall.com or by calling 330-872-0155.