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The Reverend of Memphis, a leader on a mission to help the city’s most vulnerable


Although she might not think it is, Elaine Sanford is a special woman with a noble mission. We need more like her and the staff who support her.

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  • Lynn Norment is a reporter from Memphis who was previously a writer and senior editor for Ebony magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]

Elaine Sanford is a woman on a mission. And she refuses to let the COVID-19 pandemic slow her down.

From the moment she wakes up in the morning until she finally retires in the evening, her focus is on helping homeless and needy women and their children to have a better life, to become stable. and autonomous.

As the founder of HER Faith Ministries Inc., Reverend Elaine Y. Sanford offers programs to empower and protect women and children in need while helping to build their capacity to succeed.

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“Our vision is to contribute to the reduction of poverty, food insecurity and other deprivation by providing basic needs such as emergency food, seasonal changes of clothing, rent assistance and public services to prevent evictions, and transport assistance, ”she explains.

Over the past 12 years, the ministry has helped countless women and children across Memphis and Shelby County, where the poverty rate is nearly 30%.

Sanford says the results of her work motivate her. When the women she has helped lift out of poverty, she is motivated to keep going. When a struggling young mother finally finds a job that pays a living wage, that’s the motivation.

When a family moves from poor housing to safe and affordable housing, it is heartening.

“And when families no longer need our help because they can overcome the challenges of food insecurity, we know that what we do is making a difference in people’s lives,” says Sanford.

Sanford says she was called to the ministry in 2007 after repeating dreams she heard herself preach in. One of 11 children raised by her grandparents on a farm near Little Rock, Arkansas, Sanford says her grandmother always told her she was “different.” And she was inspired by the grandparents who shared their farm food with neighbors. Her grandmother was a midwife and often cooked for sick people.

After her calling, she worked in prison ministry, which led her to establish HER faith ministries. An ordained minister in the Christian Church of Tennessee (Disciples of Christ), Sanford received a doctorate in ministry and a master’s degree in divinity from Memphis Theological Seminary.

In 2017, Sanford entered full-time ministry and founded the Park Avenue Non-Denominational Christian Church, which operates from the HER Faith Ministries headquarters on Park Avenue near Highland.

Sanford founded the church because the women she sought to help did not have a spiritual home and were uncomfortable worshiping in most churches due to their poverty. The church does not push people to donate money. “In our church, people are concerned about knowing Jesus and becoming strong emotionally, physically, and spiritually,” says Sanford. “We keep it simple and go back to the pattern of how Jesus served people. He preached where he was.

A good day for Sanford is when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place for the families she works with.

For example, in the spring of 2020, HER Faith Ministries was helping a mother and her teenage son when the pandemic struck. They couldn’t find emergency accommodation because everyone has become too careful about COVID-19.

Part of their offices was quickly turned into living quarters for the mother and son, who stayed there for six weeks until an apartment was found. HER Faith Ministries took care of the moving expenses so that the family could become stable.

In another situation, the ministry found temporary accommodation for an immigrant mother with two daughters. The family now has their own apartment and the mother has a job. “It’s always a good day when things are going the way we hope they are,” said Sanford.

The past year of the pandemic has made Sanford’s mission even more difficult, but it has not diminished his commitment. She says the most critical way the pandemic has affected her work is the “psychological and emotional impact” of not being able to personally interact with people.

For security reasons, she and her staff have limited direct contact with the women and children they serve. She misses personal interaction, as this is how she got to know women and their needs and was able to convince them to find solutions to their problems. She regrets that she has not been able to “offer love, prayer, advice and support face to face over the past year”.

Additionally, the pandemic has hampered Sanford’s ability to organize fundraising activities to support its essential programs. HER Faith Ministries has also temporarily suspended the acceptance of donations of clothing and household items. The agency’s locker room is well known throughout the community.

People in need come to pick up clothes, many carrying their new items when they leave. It’s especially busy at the start of the school year, and church buses full of old people come often. This effort was reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But on the bright side,” she says, “we’ve seen an increase in general public support since the virus started. “

Prior to accepting a ministry call, Sanford had a diverse career in broadcast journalism and healthcare marketing. She feels that the work she is doing now to help poor women and children is what she is “called to do”.

“Ministry work to the poor or to people in prison is not something everyone is called to do,” she said, adding that others are caregivers of children or the elderly, while that still others are nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers. , food handlers or police officers.

“We are all called to one vocation or another,” she emphasizes. “I think God calls us to go the extra mile when he needs us to. These are the acts of those who respond to the call to be the hands of God in a particular situation.

Although she might not think it is, Elaine Sanford is a special woman with a noble mission. We need more like her and the staff who support her.

As she points out, every action of an individual, company or agency makes a difference in the world. She said, “If we could all do just a little, then no one has to do a lot.”

Lynn Norment is a reporter from Memphis who was previously a writer and senior editor for Ebony magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]


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