Hundreds of local families are regularly shopping at the discount food warehouse of Anchor Baptist Missions International, just across the Transylvania County border in Penrose.
The deals are available to anyone, regardless of income. In addition, those who qualify income-wise get food free via state and federal programs administered at Anchor for residents of Henderson and Translyvania counties.
Carola Marx, a native German living in Transylvania County, was so impressed with products, prices, service and benevolence last Thursday she sought to join the dozen core volunteers at Anchor’s warehouse.
A mother of a teen daughter, she was out of work for a year but found another job. That will likely put her over income for the federal weekly TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) food distribution at Anchor, she said. But she smiled and said “I sure hope it does,” reflecting a sustainable wage.
The USDA income eligibility cut-off for the program is $1,862 monthly ($440 weekly, $22,344 annually) for the household’s first person and $660 for each additional worker. Income levels are less strict than for food stamps, recipients said.
Non-profit Anchor Baptist Church & Ministries features a church, Baptist schools, WGCR 720 AM radio with noted pro-family conservative messages, and ministries. Anchor Baptist Ministries International (ABMI) span disaster relief, rescue, aviation, publishing and a warehouse and distribution center.
Dr. Randy Barton started Anchor’s vast outreach with a rescue ministry 28 years ago in May 1985, months after becoming church pastor. The walk-in soup kitchen was in the back of the church. Next was delivering meals by bus to senior citizen meal sites in Transylvania County, and renting space in two grocery stores.
The pivotal expansion was moving into the former Penrose Elementary School, then constructing on its western edge a 17,500-square foot ABMI Warehouse and Food Distribution Center for shoppers and program recipients. It has four shipping-processing bays, for five ABMI trucks. The facility is akin to Grocery Outlet in warehouse size and with bargains galore, Barton said.
The warehouse opened in 2006, after six years of construction mainly by church members and other volunteers under licensed sub-contractors.
The 10-acre site is within five miles of downtown Etowah, at 3190 Old Hendersonville Highway across from Transylvania County Airport. It also fronts U.S. 64 West. It is mere blocks from Crab Creek Road/Kanuga and 64, and Triangle Stop. Dr. Barton said his congregation draws evenly from the two bordering counties.
Volunteers staff the center. Even with extra-low overhead, distribution operations lose about $13,000 a year due to such costs as for food and heating the large facility, Dr. Barton noted.
The warehouse can be emergency shelter with bays curtained off for privacy, with water and sewer service and generator electricity, Barton noted. Its original intent was to ship disaster (i.e. Hurricane Katrina) relief.
Then the Great Recession struck a half-decade ago, after key local industries had already closed or cut back. “We changed direction in its use, with food staying local,” Dr. Barton said. “When the economic crunch began, we got so many calls. We looked at other means to meet nutritional, emotional and spiritual needs. I’m sad this much is needed. But I’m glad we have the facility.”
The Distribution Center’s four main sections are the Food Bank for Western North Carolina (WNC) distribution, Bulk Foods for missionaries and lower-income families, ABMI main office, and a Client Organization and Waiting Area.
Last year “we distributed 1.2 million pounds of food” free or at huge discount such as 60 cents a pound for many canned goods, Dr. Barton said. “We’re serving about 1600 families per month” with MANNA, state and federal fee-less programs and discount sales.
Anchor remains the longest-tenured member of Asheville-based MANNA Food Bank. Anchor since 1985 has given food once a month free to income-eligible elderly, now at its site. Client sponsors cover Manna’s handling fees. Last Thursday, 40 families were served.
A key program is the federal TEFAP, boxing USDA commodities for weekly pickup. Cheryl Blanton registers its applicants, and does distributions. She and warehouse supervisor Mike Miller said it feels rewarding to help others in need. Anchor partners with United Covenant Mennonite Church in Etowah. They are provide food free once a week to the max-allowed 120 families each in Henderson and Transylvania counties. Barton noted this is the largest TEFAP distribution in WNC, in scale and frequency.
A state nutrition program via food banks is for “people totally wiped out, if they don’t quality for other programs,” Dr. Barton said. He said state legislators required “the product has to be grown, packaged or vended in North Carolina.”
The biggest-volume operation “by far is our non-profit discount grocery ministry,” Dr. Barton said. “That program has gone unbelievably well. We buy product at very good prices, and pass that saving on to the folks we minister to. It’s like coupon pricing, without needing the coupon. We buy major food retailers’ pre-consumer surplus of frozen, refrigerated, canned and dried goods and cosmetics.”
These items are surplus or in damaged containers, marked down for the proverbial can dent, or “the label is crooked,” Dr. Barton said. He added, “we sell in bulk to other food pantries, even to Manna.”
An estimated 400 families from the Carolinas and Tennessee shop at ABMI each week. Cheryl Blanton has a birds-eye view of discount-shelf shoppers. “They love it. People seem so happy and upbeat.” They look surprised at periodic special bargains, such as large picture frames for $2. Cereal boxes are often below $2. Barton said, “I see honest, hard-working middle-income American folk in there shopping.”
Unlike strict expiration dates of medicine, food has “better if used before” dates as guidelines, but often last several months or even more, Dr. Barton and Martin said. Cool, dry storage prolongs food life.
Backpack Buddies are packs of easy-to-eat snacks schools give students on Fridays, to last the weekend, and return Mondays. Miller said no candy or other sugary items are there, to avoid sugar-fueled hyper activity. Available snacks vary, include nutritious tuna and even Campbell Chunky soups.
Manna sent 220 packs last week that Anchor/ABMI “enriched” with supplements funded by Change the World, and ABMI add nearly 50 more packs, Miller said.
Discount shopping is 1:30-5:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday and 9-1 Saturday. For more information, call 883-4545 or check anchorbaptist.org.