The stocky driver climbed from his tractor trailer on a recent Saturday morning, his red-rimmed eyes and weary face telling the story of a man who'd spent the past three weeks on the road with at least another week to go before he could finally head home to his family.
Arriving at RiverRock Christian Fellowship in Chelsea, he leaned against the building's exterior, a cup of black coffee warming his hands, as a swarm of activity surrounded him.
Faith Christian Church in Gardiner, unloaded pallets of dry and frozen foods and fresh produce from the trailer, while eager volunteers from nine area churches assembled orders to bring to their respective sites for a similar but smaller distribution.
This is the work of Angel Food Ministries, a food distribution network that began in Monroe, Georgia in 1994 and now provides goods to an estimated 45 states one weekend each month.
RiverRock is one of only a handful of Angel Food sites in Maine, providing sustenance at a greatly reduced cost for hundreds of Maine families.
Bill Cunningham, a very active RiverRock member, is in charge of unloading and distribution at the host site. He has been involved with the program since the first delivery.
"It's a ministry because we distribute food to those in our community, but it's also an inner-body ministry because we fellowship with others we otherwise may not see because they belong to other churches.
"We've also had people attend our church because of Angel Food, so there have been some very tangible results from this effort," he says.
"I have fun doing what I do - making sure orders are submitted and providing support - but I really enjoy distribution day when families come to the church to pick up their food," she says. "It brings people through our doors and gives them a place where they can feel comfortable."
Gwenda says Faith Christian averages about 60 orders per month during the summer and fall, but says the number climbs to more than 100 during the winter. She sees the program as tremendously helpful to families struggling to pay rising food costs in a depressed economy.
"These are people who may not want to accept help but are forced to," she says, adding that Angel Food provides a potential avenue for spiritual nourishment as well.
"Until you have your basic needs met, it’s hard for people to think about spiritual needs," she says. "If you can help them with the basics, they can then focus on other things like a need for God in their lives."
Missy Begin, who belongs to Faith Christian and is a social worker at Gardiner Family Medicine, often works closely with Gwenda on behalf of patients who can benefit from the program.
"Some of our folks may not qualify for the food bank but they’re working people who can’t afford food or enough food because their limited incomes are used for other basic needs," she says.
"Angel Food allows people to pay a small amount and get about twice as much food as they'd get for the same price at the grocery store...and it’s good, healthy food - meat, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables," she says. "I also share with people that I purchase items from Angel Food because it’s important for them to know.
"We often can provide free food to people through donations others make to our church's Angel Food ministry," she adds, "but many people won't accept something unless they can contribute toward it.
To learn more or place an online order for pickup at either RiverRock or Faith Christian, visit Angel Food Ministries.