Several churches in Maine are struggling to find a way to provide discounted food boxes to needy families and individuals after a Georgia-based supplier went out business two months ago.

“There is a huge void all over the country,” said Portland resident Charles Wynott, a Social Security and food stamp recipient who relied on the program for monthly supplies of low-cost food to supplement his food budget. “Every little bit helped.”

Angel Food Ministries shut down its food distribution operations in September without warning. Media reports said the nonprofit organization blamed its closure on the state of the economy as well as increased costs for food, fuel and operations.

The program served thousands of people in 45 states, including Maine. At one time, Angel Food Ministries had 15 food distribution points in the state, stretching from York, Biddeford and Portland to Rockland, Bridgton and Waterville.

The food boxes were priced significantly below retail value, giving a financial boost to individuals and families struggling to feed their families in a down economy.

Under the program, a family of four could purchase a box of food for $35. A single box contained enough freshly frozen meat, vegetables and fruit to feed them for a week. That same box would be large enough to feed a single individual for a month. The box’s retail value was $65.

Richard Harmon coordinated the distribution of food boxes at the Park Avenue Church of God in Portland. During the program’s peak, more than 200 food boxes were being distributed each month at Park Avenue.

“The need is still there,” Harmon said.

One of the hardest-hit communities was Chebeague Island. The Rev. Linda Brewster, pastor of the Chebeague Island United Methodist Church, said about a dozen elderly individuals and families there relied on Angel Food Ministries.

Brewster said she and her husband, who live on the mainland, picked up food boxes from the Park Avenue Church of God and delivered them to the ferry, then church volunteers from Chebeague provided the boxes to those who had ordered them.

Brewster said she is working on a possible solution that could involve the sale of food boxes through her church at roughly the same price.

The Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church is in the same predicament. Thirty families participated in the program there.

“It’s really bad,” said Betty Young, a church member who coordinated the program for the church. “A lot of people have called me. They want to know what we are going to do. I have to tell them there is not very much we can do.”

Harmon said he may have found a solution. One Harvest Food Ministry, a nonprofit food-distribution organization based in Georgia, has told him it may be able to provide a service similar to Angel Food Ministries in Maine, but not until next year.

In a bad economy where many families are struggling to put food on the table, something needs to be done, Harmon said.

“They call it (the food boxes) a lift up, not a hand out for people who are struggling,” he said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]