As I noted yesterday, a charity that helps folks save money on groceries is a good idea, especially in a down economy. But is Angel Food Ministries (AFM) really a charity? And is the food a good deal?
The fairest assessment of AFM I've found so far comes from Trent Hamm, financial blogger at The Simple Dollar. He says the food is a reasonable grocery option. The standard menu includes things like corn dogs and Twinkies, which aren't the greatest staples, but Hamm finds AFM makes up for that weakness with optional fresh produce packages, exactly the sort of wholesome chow low-income folks often lack. He also gives a thumbs-up to using churches as distribution points, as churches are often in residential areas, which means easier access for more people.
Hamm does point out some legitimate questions about how AFM conducts business. He cites three significant "red flags"
- AFM is not listed on CharityNavigator.org, an independent charity-rating service. (And don't confuse AFM with L.A.-based Project Angel Food.)
- The FBI and IRS have been investigating AFM this year.
- Founder and CEO Wesley J. "Joe" Wingo paid himself, his wife, and three relatives $2.5 million for working for the company in 2006. They also loaned themselves money from AFM's coffers (at least $1.1 million). Such questionable use of organization cash led Ministry Watch to issue a "Donor Alert" on AFM in 2008 (alongside financially opaque characters like Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Rod Parsley, Joyce Meyer, and Trinity Broadcasting Network).
Hamm emphasizes that these issues shouldn't stop folks in need from buying groceries from AFM; he simply cautions potential donors to consider whether AFM is the best investment of their charitable giving.
Donors may take some relief in this news: AFM just settled a lawsuit brought by two board members angry over what they saw as financial chicanery by the Wingos. The plaintiffs got financial compensation and legal fees, but they also forced AFM to agree to several conditions:
- complete a forensic audit;
- cancel company credit cards used by the Wingos;
- reclaim a jet owned by Joe Wingo and leased to Angel Food at a $10,000 a month profit;
- bar Wingo's son Andy from ever doing business with the nonprofit again [see Christopher Quinn, "Agreement Ends Angel Food Case," Atlanta Constitution-Journal, 2009.06.23]
Again, none of this says that if the family budget is wearing thin you shouldn't take a $65 box of groceries for $30. But Angel Food Ministries appears to have some management issues that it took a lawsuit to finally address.