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The 'Angels' of Santa Clarita

Posted: September 12, 2008 10:24 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Ann Berkebile goes over paperwork for Saugus senior citizens who are served by the Angel Food Ministry, Thursday at Valencia United Methodist Church. Ann Berkebile goes over paperwork for Saugus senior citizens who are served by the Angel Food Ministry, Thursday at Valencia United Methodist Church.
Ann Berkebile goes over paperwork for Saugus senior citizens who are served by the Angel Food Ministry, Thursday at Valencia United Methodist Church.

There are more hungry people in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Ann Berkebile will tell you why: It's the economy.

When a lack of county funding forced the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center to stop delivering meals to residents at Bouquet Canyon Seniors, Berkebile, who lives at the Saugus apartment building, said her neighbors had difficulty getting meals.

"A lot of people don't drive and can't get out," she said. Even if her neighbors can drive, it is still tough to prepare a home-cooked meal, she said.

Berkebile also blames the slow economy and rising prices.

"Money has a lot to do with it," she said. "The horrible prices of everything."

But as a volunteer and member of Valencia United Methodist Church, Berkebile is doing what she can to help her neighbors.

The Valencia church recently became a host site for Angel Food Ministries, a national program that provides high-quality meals at a discount price to anyone who needs it.

Knowing that the faith-based meals program offers senior menus, Berkebile told the residents of the 200-unit apartment complex about the meals took orders for Angel Food's senior boxes.

So far, she's taken more than a dozen orders for pre-packaged meals that will be delivered on Sept. 27 at the church.

Good meals at a low cost

The meals available through Angel Food Ministries are not just for senior citizens, but for anyone who needs them.
Angel Food purchases "first-rate, restaurant-grade, high-quality food" from suppliers, said Terry Comp, one of Valencia United's 50 Angel Food volunteers.

Buying in higher volumes allows them to save.

"They provide $65 worth of food for $30 a month," she said.

From there, volunteers take orders from residents, ranging from single parents to senior citizens to entire families.

Angel Food offers a senior menu, which includes 10 pre-packaged meals for people with dietary needs for $25 and a regular box for $30.

Monthly specials are also available, as well as a Spanish menu.

The boxes include a range of products like ground turkey, frozen pizza, vegetables and side dishes.

After the food is pre-ordered, volunteers collect and distribute it from the church on the fourth Saturday of every month.

September marks the third time Valencia United hosted an Angel Food pick-up site and Comp said around 100 boxes have been delivered.

Why Angel Food?

The decision to apply to be a host site for Angel Food relates to the needs of the community and the church's overall goal.

Initially, Comp said the church saw a demand for food distribution in the community.

"We saw the need because of the economy," she said.

Realizing that the local food pantries are facing a shortage in donations and a rise in customers, Comp said the church began considering how they could help out.

Nancy Taylor, director for Valencia United's Angel Food site, said the church has struck a need.

"Unfortunately in these economic times, there are so many people who are in need of these services," she said.

Over the last few months, Valencia United received a majority of orders from the Santa Clarita Valley, Oxnard, Lancaster and the San Fernando Valley. A few inquiries came from as far as Bakersfield, she said.

The partnership with Angel Food Ministries connects to Valencia United's goal in creating a large-scale mission project that would have a positive impact on the Santa Clarita Valley, Comp said.

"Our mission is to really offer a hand up to anyone in the community," Comp said.

But the church doesn't want to stop with Angel Food Ministries.

"We feel that there are other needs that could be met," Comp said.

Officials hope to use the monthly distributions as a way to assess how the church can help, whether it's through helping people get jobs or dealing with their legal matters.

"Angel Food is the launching pad for our larger hope to offer support within the community," Comp said.

A benefit to food pantries

Angel Food also lends a hand to the struggling food pantries.

Comp said people can purchase boxes to donate to people and organizations.

That means much-needed donations to the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry and Hunger Defense Fund.

"I think it's a wonderful way to reach those people," said Belinda Crawford, executive director of the SCV Food Pantry.

Crawford told her clients who don't qualify for the Food Pantry's services about Angel Food.

Wendi Lancy, community outreach coordinator for the Hunger Defense Fund, also sees positive outcomes.
"It's a huge benefit to us," she said.
Because Angel Food offers a range of food from meat to produce, Lancy said those frozen foods will add to the selection of what Hunger Defense Fund can offer.
The donations come at a much-needed time. The pantry has seen a 41-percent increase in the number of families served from January to July when compared to the same period last year, Lancy said.

Going beyond the church walls
Working with Angel Food Ministries is one aspect of the Methodist church's W.O.W. Ministries, which stands for Working Outside the Walls.
Pastor John Shaver said the ministry is focused on "the idea that the church has left the building."
Plus, it gives them a way to get a "good read" on the community.
"It's taking our faith into the community," Taylor said, adding that it's a way to identify the needs of the community and go beyond the weekly Sunday services. "We are able to express our faith in service to God."


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