MARIETTA - A new discount food ordering program is making its debut in the Mid-Ohio Valley this week, filling a gap that came when the Angel Food Ministries program closed in 2011.
Marietta's Second Congregational Church will be taking orders today and Saturday for Smart Choice Food boxes.
The boxes feature enough food for multiple meals at rates nearly half off grocery store prices.
The new program comes nearly two years after a similar program-Angel Food Ministries-closed due to economic concerns. Since then, local residents have been clamoring for a replacement to the low-cost food program, said Lori Schultheis, director of the Smart Choice Food program at Second Congregational Church.
"There's not been a month go by where I didn't get a phone call asking if we've found something new. The interest is still there. The need is still there," she said.
Second Congregational offered the Angel Food Ministries program for four years, said Schultheis, and at its peak the church was distributing 100 boxes of food per month.
Hunger By The Numbers
* 17.8 percent (2,054,260) of Ohioans struggle with food insecurity.
* 47 percent of all food-insecure Ohioans are not income eligible for federal nutrition programs like SNAP, school meals, or WIC because they live in households above 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
* 25.7 percent (679,900) of Ohio children struggle with food insecurity.
* 32 percent of food-insecure Ohio children are likely ineligible for federal nutrition programs.
* 13.8 percent (8,550) of Washington County residents struggle with food insecurity.
* 27 percent of all food-insecure Washington County residents live above 185 percent of the federal poverty level, disqualifying them from federal nutrition programs.
* 23.7 percent (3,090) of Washington County children struggle with food insecurity.
* 25 percent of all food-insecure Washington County children are likely ineligible for federal nutrition programs.
Source: Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap 2013 report.
The new program is almost identical to the old program, she added.
The boxes offer similar food at a similar price point. However, Schultheis has already tried the Smart Choice Food program and added that the food quality is much better than what people were getting through Angel Food Ministries.
One of the reasons for the high quality is that all of the food found in the boxes is brand name, said Scott Cluckey, founder of the Niles, Ohio-based Smart Choice Food company.
"We can't always advertise that it's going to be say Tyson chicken in a box, but people open it up and it is. We've had Cheesecake Factory cheesecakes. We gear toward the type of items we know families are going to want to eat," he said.
Cluckey founded the company in September 2010, just after he had been laid off and was worrying about how to affordably feed his own eight-person family.
When Angel Food Ministries went out of business in September 2011, Cluckey began getting calls begging the company to expand its service out of northeastern Ohio and the business grew from there.
One of the greatest parts about the program is that like Angel Food Ministries it has no income requirement and people can order as many boxes as they like, said Schultheis.
According to Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap 2013 report, 17.8 percent of Ohioans struggle with food insecurity and 47 percent of those are ineligible for federal nutrition programs such as SNAP, school meals or WIC because they live above 185 percent of the federal poverty line.
Families and individuals have a variety of Smart Food Choice box options to choose from each month including a box full of heat and serve meals ideal for seniors, said Cluckey.
The June Smart Box costs $36 and includes more than 20 pounds of food, 12.5 pounds of which is protein.
Cluckey compared the box to one at a local Giant Eagle and found the same box would have retailed for more than $76, he said.
Second Congregational Church at 1855 Greene St. is taking orders for the boxes today from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. Food can also be ordered online at www.smartchoicefood.com until June 18.
Food can also be ordered through the Celebration Center of Belpre, said Ange Westmoreland, who directs the church's Smart Choice Food program. The Celebration Center has been offering the program for six months now. They generally receive around 40 boxes a month and have had excellent feedback, said Westmoreland.
"Before we signed up, the pastor wanted to try it to make sure it was good quality food. So he ordered one of every box. And it was good," she said.
The program costs nothing for the churches who act as drop-off locations and distribution centers for the food, added Westmoreland.
The Celebration Center is currently only taking orders online.
For more information, Schultheis can be contacted at 373-3516 or 373-0254 and Westmoreland can be reached at 423-9673.