Last year, 25-year-old Maya (last name withheld), who lives in Virginia, was expecting her first child. Collecting unemployment due to COVID-19, she was staying with her parents when she got into an argument with them; they wanted more money to lodge her. After the altercation turned physical, Maya knew she had to leave the home for her baby’s safety. Two weeks before her due date, she was sleeping in her car.

Maya asked around and soon heard about ForKids, a nonprofit and partner of ELCA World Hunger that serves 14 cities and counties in southeast Virginia to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty for families and children. Soon she connected with a caseworker, Lisa Ellsworth, who shared these words of comfort: “After having the baby, you have a room.” ForKids set Maya up with emergency housing to come home to from the hospital.

“Ms. Lisa made sure I had clothes, food, she helped me create a résumé, anything I needed for my baby, she helped us,” Maya said. “She was there for us, just a very great person. For the last month she helped us look for houses, build up credit, the whole nine yards.”

ForKids starts with meeting the urgent need for housing of people experiencing homelessness, then gets to work on repairing the causes of it—for example, helping people find steady employment. The organization also runs a hotline connecting people who face housing crises with social services in the area, as well as tutoring, summer programs and after-school programs for kids.

ForKids learned about ELCA World Hunger grants through its longtime partner congregation, Faith Lutheran in Suffolk, Va., but it has long-standing connections with other Lutheran and non-Lutheran congregations. The organization was founded in 1988 when 13 churches in the area, including St. John Lutheran in Norfolk, came together to do something about homelessness in their communities.

Big Dream Grants are designed to support ministries with transformative projects that will make a significant difference in their communities.

This year, ForKids received a Big Dream Grant from ELCA World Hunger. Larger than World Hunger’s typical domestic grants, Big Dream Grants are designed to support ministries with transformative projects that will make a significant difference in their communities.

In 2021, ELCA World Hunger is awarding grants to five organizations around the country, one-time gifts of $10,000 to $75,000. ForKids’ “big dream” is to change the systems that can cause or further homelessness, such as a lack of housing policies and affordable housing.

Thaler McCormick, ForKids’ chief executive officer, has served the organization for 25 years. Early in her time there, McCormick realized that storytelling is a powerful tool to generate support. Learning to tell the stories of the organization and the people it has impacted has helped build what she calls “deep community support” for its programs over the decades.

With its Big Dream Grant, ForKids plans to combine the data it collects from its hotline with videos sharing stories about people who have been impacted by its programs. The organization plans to share these with the community and take them to city councils and other community decision-makers to advocate for housing policies and affordable housing.

“I can’t think of many funders that would make this kind of investment in something that I think will be so incredibly important to systemic and community change,” McCormick said.

Explaining the importance of World Hunger’s support, McCormick said that one of the biggest barriers to affordable housing is resistance in the community. “What we’re trying to do now … is to use data visualization and storytelling to begin to change hearts and minds about affordable housing and hunger in our communities.”

Learn more about ELCA World Hunger’s domestic grants.

Alex Baird
Alex Baird is ELCA senior manager for communications and marketing.

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